New York

Michael Asher

Claire Copley Gallery

Although there’s no contest going on, in 1971 Robert Irwin put up as an exhibition a short wall across Pace Gallery, and in 1972 at Documenta Michael Asher painted three flat surfaces of a room white and the other three black, thereby doing away with physical stuff as the space modifier. Earlier this year Irwin constructed an architectural hole, Portal, at Mizuno Gallery, and now Asher has simply removed an interior wall from the Claire Copley Gallery. Well, not quite so simple. He also repainted the gallery with an extrasoft sprayed white, removed an extraneous light track near the front window, and patched up the carpet and ceiling where the wall came out. Nevertheless, he’s made a work of an absence, and only the select clientele of a largely Conceptual (Allen Ruppersburg, Ger van Elk, Daniel Buren, Lawrence Weiner, etc.) gallery who know how the original space felt can appreciate it. The Times critic (who counts for a lot, since opinions like mine are so tardy) reported himself “equally amused and annoyed,” and, even within the art-world cadre which knows better, Asher’s piece was seen largely as another facet of the same Duchampian sense of thumb-nose which produced Ruppersburg’s witty 21-canvas (6’ x 6’) handwritten copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Of course, it is not. If anybody has paid dues to have an oeuvre regarded in the most serious (phenomenological) context, Asher has. The trouble is that Asher’s refined gutsiness amounts to greater risk than reward; sure, the room is cleaner, airier, lighter, more expansive, more cheerful, and more honest (now you can see the stacked canvases, catalogues, magazines, and the woman at the desk who gives out all that mandatory important gallery talk which must ride shotgun on austere art—“Michael felt that . . . ,” “Michael simply insisted that . . . ,” etc.), but we’re given the rather obvious lesson that the space is radically changed by this simple extraction. And, so what? . . . especially since Asher’s previous work is so much more powerful, and less schoolmasterish.

Peter Plagens