Michael Asher

Palais Des Beaux Arts- Brussels

It took Michael Asher five years to complete his project here. It focuses on the architect of the Palais des Beaux Arts, Victor Horta, who created buildings that are the embodiment of art-nouveau architecture in Belgium. In the Horta Museum Asher had found a small publication in which Horta had published his photographs of various water-works projects by William Mulholland. Perhaps it was this book that inspired Asher to consider Horta and Mulholland together. Mulholland became famous in 1928 when a dam he had constructed in the vicinity of Los Angeles burst. Both men were represented in the first room by a chronology of their most important projects, in the second by journalistic information about their work. It is perhaps “deformation” and not “information” that was presented here since only partial views of their works were shown. On one side there were pictures and reports of the dam break, stills from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, 1974, an explanation of the film, and historical background on dam construction. It is believed that Mulholland had instigated—together with local authorities—a merciless water policy that allowed him to become rich, but that also signaled the end of his career.

Across from these, there were enlargements from American newspapers that mention Horta’s lecture tour from 1915-19. Horta used his lectures to pronounce his hatred for the Germans, who had invaded Belgium a few days after the outbreak of World War I. Horta posited that German spies had obtained plans of Brussels’ infrastructure and were using this knowledge to destroy the city systematically from inside. Primarily though, he lamented the Germans’ destruction of churches and other architectural monuments. The American reports of this lecture tour come mainly from smaller regional newspapers, but they are usually first-page articles. Both Horta and Mulholland find their way into the media through destruction, both are synonomous with action. The reporting about Horta increased around 1917; the mentions of Mulholland correspond to a kind of yellow journalism that leaves little room for explanation. Even today it is difficult to gain access to the records of this tragedy.

Asher closes the section on Horta with texts from a Dutch film that used Horta’s buildings as a backdrop. In this film he represents the haute-bourgeoisie, the end of an era; Mulholland’s contribution to the history of Los Angeles, on the other hand, is linked to the kind of corruption that is not merely historical. Asher presents both men as types: the exhibition site is like a book, the rooms the open pages in which contextual and real relationships are juxtaposed, from which the viewer must construct meaning.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.