Conceptual artist Michael Asher (1943) took this process one step further and took minimalism to its logical conclusion by removing the object or image altogether, creating an art that forced the viewer to analyze what wasn’t there, rather than what was. Presumably this is a difficult concept to accept when considering that an empty space couldn’t possibly hold any meaning. Or could it?
For example, when he temporarily removed a dividing wall in a Los Angeles gallery in 1973, he successfully achieved the task of creating more for the viewer to see and contemplate. Before the exhibit opened, when in place, the wall functioned to separate the office space from the exhibition space and prohibit visitors from observing the day-to-day operations of the gallery. Once removed for the exhibit, desks and chairs, books and papers, telephones, file cabinets and other administrative items located in the rear of the gallery were on display occupying the once seemingly empty space. By removing the wall, the gallery itself became the artwork.
This exhibit, or de-installation, related to the ideas behind many conceptual works of the time, questioned the increasingly materialistic nature of artworks and gallery system, which included the economic, historical, and institutional factors.
Throughout his career Michael Asher has continued to use art galleries and institutions such as museums as his medium. For each exhibition he chooses to alter the space by removing various elements, rearranging them, or otherwise changing their location. For a 1979 exhibit held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, he removed large panels from the building’s facade and hung them on an interior wall within the museum. Although the subtle nature of the work made it difficult to immediately detect, the museum itself became the work.
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