CalArts Remembers Groundbreaking Conceptual Artist and Inspiring Teacher: Michael Asher
Michael Asher's "No Title" opened the 2010 Whitney Biennial continuously to the public twenty-four hours a day from Wednesday, May 26 at 12:00 am through Friday, May 28. This video features surveillance footage—taken in the Whitney Museum of American Art's lobby—of the first ten seconds of every hour during the project.
Valencia, CA, October 16—Michael Asher, one of the most important and influential conceptual artists in the United States, died on Monday, October 15, at the age of 69. He began teaching his legendary Post Studio class in California Institute of the Arts’ (CalArts) School of Art in the early 1970s and was a faculty member at the time of his death. Informing and enriching CalArts’ culture for decades, Post Studio with its marathon critiques and rigorous discourse under Asher’s incisive leadership, influenced several generations of artists—encouraging them to question the social and historical contexts in which they work.
“It is very hard to believe that we will not again hear his infectious laugh, filled with sharp insight and generosity, as he skewers some art world pretension, or describes some student folly,” wrote School of Art Dean Thomas Lawson in East of Borneo. “That laugh was everything, explains everything; Michael devoted his work to exploring the limits of the galleries and schools and museums that give context and space for art, poking at all sorts of barriers and shibboleths with a humor that was sometimes sly, and sometimes hilarious.”
Asher did not make typical installations or art objects. He was, according to New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, "among the patron saints of the Conceptual Art phylum known as Institutional Critique, an often esoteric dissection of the assumptions that govern how we perceive art.” Over his 40-plus year career, Asher discovered and extracted his art in the institutions in which it was shown, culling it from museum’s collections, histories, or architectural structure.
“The results can be like magic; an exposé; a drastic, possibly hilarious rearrangement of available objects or architecture; or all of the above, noted Smith. “Sometimes Mr. Asher gathers facts, like the list he published of all the artworks ever deaccessioned by the Museum of Modern Art. Once, in a chilly late autumn, he moved all of a Swiss museum’s radiators into the lobby.”
Of Asher as an artist and teacher, Lawson commented, “he did all this with serious intent—asking people to consider, or reconsider, the ways in which they thought about art, how they valued it, what they valued it for. There was a politics at work, one that questioned the ethical roots of a system that measures art in dollars, or as a collectible. But Michael loved thinking about art, arguing about ethics and value, and above all laughing."
For a discussion of Michael Asher’s significance as a teacher, and a first-hand description of his class, please see the interview with artist and former Asher student Christopher Williams, which was made for the Experimental Impulse show at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) in 2011.