Critics’ Picks

View of “Michael Asher.”

View of “Michael Asher.”

Los Angeles

Michael Asher

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Bergamot Station G1 2525 Michigan Avenue
January 26–April 12, 2008

For a Los Angeles artist with a weighty résumé dating back to the late 1960s and a critical reputation guaranteeing him a secure place in the history of advanced art, it’s surprising how infrequently Michael Asher has actually exhibited in his hometown. His best-known work on home turf occurred in 1974 at Claire Copley Gallery, where in one cunning gesture, he simply removed the wall separating the exhibition space from the office. Much of his local renown is based on his long-standing faculty position at CalArts, where he influenced several generations of artists (including Christopher Williams, Stephen Prina, and Edgar Arceneaux, among dozens of note) who endured his infamous tough-love poststudio crit marathons, sometimes lasting eight hours or more.

What’s even more surprising is that Asher’s current exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art—a homecoming of sorts—is nothing short of a crowd-pleaser. Undoubtedly, such a phrase would give a serious artist like Asher pause, but the untitled, research-driven intervention, which reconstructs the entire ten-year history of this kunsthalle’s temporary architecture as a palimpsest of (mostly) aluminum stud walls, is a rather dazzling thing to experience and likely to win over an audience unfamiliar with “institutional critique.”

After signing a legal waiver, one wanders aimlessly through a labyrinthine construction that varies in visual and spatial density, and the stud walls—occasionally in thickets three or four layers deep—reveal the institution’s (mostly pragmatic) patterns of exhibition and display that level the differences of forty past shows as varied as Thelma Golden’s “Freestyle” (2001), an Ant Farm retrospective (2004), and “Enigma Variations” (2006), which paired Philip Guston and Giorgio de Chirico. Conceptually rigorous, but thankfully open-ended and nonhierarchical, Asher’s exhibition is surely more of a warm embrace of the institution than a critique of it—a sly move for an artist who has modestly disrupted expectations for nearly forty years.