Los Angeles

Michael Asher

La Jolla Museum

The La Jolla Museum of Art is undergoing an image transformation under a new director, Tom Tibbs and assistant director, Larry Urrutia. The Museum is now organizing a number of low pressure exhibitions of Los Angeles area artists. Last month a single work of Robert Irwin’s was exhibited, one of the recent plastic discs, shown isolated in a long, low-ceilinged gallery. This gallery has now been transformed into an environment designed and constructed by Michael Asher. The room has been only slightly altered. The floor was covered with thick white shag carpeting—a favorite California tract house item—and the walls painted white. Lighting was soft but not theatrical, and a low hum—a steady 85 cycles came from a hidden source, the intensity varying as one moved around the space. Visitors were asked to enter one at a time and to remove their shoes.

The sensory effect of the room was both quiescent and intense. As the room neither “showed” anything nor “did” anything some spectators suffered an immediate esthetic collapse and left at once. The room, however, was a successful experiment in the intensification of minimal sensory experiences. The caressing touch of carpet to the feet, the soft light casting shadows that move about the room as one moves, and the not unpleasant hum like the refrigerator in the kitchen or furnace in the cellar, giving the space a sense of invisible mechanical activation, contributed to a space which might be described as pleasant or comfortable, if such words were permitted in art-critical vocabulary.

Asher, who has been involved for several years in the definition of form in minimal ways, frequently through the use of shaped air columns, varies his approach here a bit. One is aware of surfaces and enclosures, as there are no intervening objects to modify space or distract one’s perception of it. Textured surfaces, planes and corners are as important as the spaces (and my chief criticism about the construction of the piece was that two walls had baseboards while the other two did not). The chief difference between this work and his previous endeavors is that this is much more sensorially compelling, drawing on three senses, and much more participatory—more theatre than “art.” Those who entered the room without being prepared to perform—even for themselves—were acutely embarrassed. Others (I entered shortly after an actress), rolled, skipped or fluttered around the room casting shadows and wiggling their toes through the shag and humming.

Thomas H. Garver