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 Michael Asher  (1943 - 2012)

About: Michael Asher
 

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Lived/Active: California      Known for: conceptual art, installation sculpture, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Untitled, c.1968
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is the obituary of the artist from The New York Times.

Michael Asher, Conceptual Artist, Dies at 69
By RANDY KENNEDY
Published: October 17, 2012

Michael Asher, a dean of the Conceptual Art movement, whose cerebral but playful work specialized in dismantling — often literally — the institutions that show art and that shape the way people think about it, died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 69.

His death was announced by Thomas Lawson, the dean of the art school at the California Institute of the Arts, where Mr. Asher taught for more than 30 years, earning a reputation as one of the most dynamic art educators of his generation, deeply influencing many younger artists. The death was attributed to a long illness, but no specific cause was given.

Mr. Asher came of age in the 1960s with a wave of revolutionaries like Joseph Kosuth, Marcel Broodthaers, Hans Haacke and Dan Graham, who worked — for reasons that were political, philosophical and sometimes poetic — to push art more fully into the realm of ideas and acts and away from objects.

Mr. Asher’s approach, which came to be called institutional critique, focused on the web of underlying and often hidden conventions that surrounded art and how art was viewed, valued and used in society.

One of his first works, at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1969, involved simply rearranging the institute’s movable interior walls that were used for exhibitions but leaving the walls empty, to make evident to visitors that while the walls “appear to be architectural surfaces,” as he wrote, “they are really planar objects.”

For a group show that same year at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, he concealed a blower above a door to create a slab of air that visitors passed through when they moved from one gallery to the next.

More dramatically, in 1970 at Pomona College, he created a work by reconfiguring a gallery and then leaving it open, without a door, 24 hours a day, introducing light and the noise of the street into the gallery as experiential elements. A well-known 1999 work was simply a booklet listing every art object that had been de-accessioned — sold or traded — by the Museum of Modern Art in New York since its founding.

If Duchamp’s work exploded the definition of art by insisting that it depended on context, Mr. Asher’s used context as raw material. In doing so, his installations and interventions, like those of Robert Irwin, a fellow Angeleno, sought to use art to awaken people’s perceptions to the complex, subtle, often unexpectedly beautiful nature of their everyday visual landscape.

“Asher doesn’t merely grant privilege to the art idea over the art object,” wrote Christopher Knight, the art critic for The Los Angeles Times, about a 2008 show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, in which Mr. Asher reconstituted the bare aluminum studs for the walls built for all 44 previous exhibitions in the museum. “Instead he embraces experience as fundamental to a meaningful work of art.”

Roberta Smith, in The New York Times, wrote that Mr. Asher took “the fear factor out of institutional critique,” in works that had a “strong pleasure component and a fierce, efficient clarity, whether conceptual or experiential.”

As a teacher, Mr. Asher became renowned for a kind of endurance performance art in the classroom — marathon critique sessions that often went deep into the night. Writing on Tuesday on his blog, the artist and writer Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento, who studied with Mr. Asher, recalled one class that began at 2 p.m. and ended nearly 12 hours later.

“This was not a rare event,” he added. “Michael was prone to showing us films and having us read articles or chapters, in their entirety, during class. No material would go unexamined, no thought left unprobed, no stone unturned.”

Michael Max Asher was born into an art-world family in Los Angeles on July 15, 1943. His mother was the noted collector, curator and dealer Betty Asher, an early proponent of Pop Art painting. Mr. Asher studied at the University of California, Irvine, and began teaching at the California Institute of the Arts in the early 1970s, along with other influential artist-professors like John Baldessari, Judy Chicago and Allan Kaprow.

Like the work of many Conceptual artists, Mr. Asher’s suffered, by its nature, in being underrepresented in museums. But Mr. Asher, who pushed the bounds of objectlessness to its extreme, was a special case. His pieces were always site-specific; they were always temporary, with whatever was made or moved for them being destroyed or put back after the exhibitions; and they were not salable, in the conventional conception of the word. (In the early 1970s, Mr. Asher devised a contract under which he was paid fees for his labor and materials instead of for the work itself.)

In 2010, Mr. Asher won the Whitney Museum’s Bucksbaum Award, a $100,000 prize given to an artist whose work is included in the museum’s biennial. Mr. Asher’s piece for that year’s biennial was characteristic in its deceptive simplicity: to leave the museum open 24 hours a day for a week during the run of the biennial, a fitting accommodation to a city around it that never sleeps.

Like many of the ideas that were Mr. Asher’s canvases and his clay, this one ended up showing art’s intersection with the real world: for budgetary reasons the museum was able to stay open around the clock for only three days.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A conceptual* artist who is recognized for making that method established in art schools and museums, Michael Asher is both a teacher and active artist.  He is a life-long resident of Los Angeles.  After participating in conceptualist exhibitions in New York at the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museums and receiving positive reviews, he returned to California and began his teaching career in the 1970s in the post studio program at CalArts, California Institute of the Arts.

Since then he has completed a "series of provocative installations*, many of which are now touchstones for contemporary artists and critical anchors within the discourse of 'institutional critique'." (Swenson, 166).  For instance at the Clair Copley Gallery in Los Angeles, he removed a wall, exposing the gallery offices---the hard-core business side of fine art.  His own work is not saleable objects but is composed of items to be viewed and displayed.  This approach means that museum venues are more adaptable to his artwork than galleries wishing to make a profit.

On its tenth anniversary, the Santa Monica Museum of Art has commissioned Asher, who in turn re-created with galvanized steel and some plywood remnants the 44 temporary exhibitions housed in the museum in the last ten years.  There are no walls between Asher exhibition of exhibition recreations, but standard 16 inch intervals between studs give the impression of walls.  This treatment very much involved viewers and "threw attention back on individual experience and decision-making as constitutive of art's significance. . . .Stud walls may never again be asked to do so much." (Swenson, 208)

He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  His installation venues include the Kunstverein Hamburg, the Renaissance Society in Chicago, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne and ARC in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven in Holland, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Banff Centre in Canada, the Krefeld Kunstmuseum in Germany, the Venice Biennale* in Italy, and Documenta 5 and 7 in Kassel, Germany.


Sources:
Kirsten Swenson, "If Walls Could Speak", Art in America, May 2008, p. 166

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, www.lacma.org/MICnow/artists/Asher/asherbio.htm

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx



Biography from Stuart Collection:
The work of Michael Asher arises from the belief that no individual art object has a universal meaning, independent of its institutional context. Asher, and other prominent conceptual artists who emerged in the 1970s, believe that the spaces and practices of the museum or gallery - its methods of interpreting, publicizing, and displaying works of art - condition how we understand the art that is exhibited there.  Throughout his career, Asher has dramatized this view by adopting the museum or institution as his "medium."  His techniques call attention to the architectural, design, or administrative strategies of the organizations that present art, and help to control or shape its significance.

Although Asher is a seminal figure in Los Angeles and has been widely recognized in Europe, his untitled project for the Stuart Collection is his first permanent public outdoor work in the United States.  This functional, polished, granite drinking fountain is an exact replica of commercial indoor metal fountains typically found in business offices and government buildings.  Instead of its usual context as interior office furniture, the fountain is placed monument like on a grass island in the center of Myers Drive next to the university administration offices and the Price Center. The placing of his work is fundamental to its meaning; it is juxtaposed with a large American flag and a granite landmark commemorating Camp Matthews, a World War II training center and artillery and rifle range which occupied the land on which UCSD now stands.

Asher's work projects several cultural references into one modest object, and it is a play on sculpture's historic role as representation. As an ironically monumentalized fragment of any banal administrative environment, the drinking fountain mirrors the nearby monument to Camp Matthews, suggesting a continuity between the institutions of defense and of learning, of the military and the university. The fountain, in its modesty and its reversal of the traditional grandeur of water fountains as public monuments, also calls to mind Southern California's need to manage and preserve its natural resources in light of the ongoing water crisis caused by large-scale agricultural and urban development.

Folklore -- Students have decided that it is good luck to drink from the fountain's "smart water" before an important exam.


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