Michael Asher, Down to Earth

Allan Sekula discusses Michael Asher’s incisive, forensic, and often very funny practice in this 2000 essay for Afterall. As Sekula writes, Asher’s engagement of sculpture, site, documentation, history, and politics realigned a perspective on art with that of decrepitude and waste, both past and present. Exposing the contradictions, poetics, and (in Sekula’s words) “restless flux of big and little opportunisms” that condition art’s making and understanding, Asher’s work brought the discrepancies and slippages separating things from their meanings “down to earth.” From the essay’s closing paragraph:

“It is worth recounting a story Michael Asher told me once. It’s a story about cars […]. We were standing around one night in the CalArts parking lot, postponing our long drives over the pass and back through the San Fernando Valley to our respective precincts of the Los Angeles basin. Asher was having trouble with his old Volkswagen, and this led him to mention his uncle, a mechanic, who helped him out with automobiles from time to time. As it turned out, this uncle, who had of course developed an acute and extensive acoustical memory of engine noises, always complained when Hollywood films would, for example, accompany a shot of a ’56 Ford with the sound of a ’56 Chrysler engine. At the time, this story, casually told with lots of laughter, seemed like a parable of Asher’s own essentially realist and comedic aesthetic procedures.”

This essay originally appeared in Afterall 1 (Autumn/Winter 2000), and is reproduced with permission from the author. Click here to download a PDF copy.

IMAGE: Michael Asher, Kunstraum Vienna (viewing South), 1996. Kunstraum Wien, Vienna, Austria. Photo: Hans Schubert.