Irrational Rationality

You do not hear about artists like Michael Asher a lot. He is more of an artist’s artist. Success is measured by having nice things in our culture. When it comes to the art bubble the canonical significance comes from the auction prices, gallery shows, people who you know, presence in museums and private collections, etc. But Asher does not care about any of it. These ideas are boring to the artist. Asher developed an artistic practice where sellable objects were not produced. 


Michael Asher is a funny artist. And I mean it in a good way. The person who forgoes art commodification cannot be a bore. In fact, it is a very romantic pursuit. He demystifies art making and makes it available to anyone. His artworks with their parameters and logic are easy to follow. It is painless to see the work for what it is - for its rationality. But that’s where irrationality comes from. Hence humor. It is rational to the point when it is irrational. It is sad to the point when it is funny. In the 70s at Ponoma College Asher removed the gallery doors, essentially forcing the gallery to stay open 24/7. Interrupting people’s normal way of understanding the art world and challenging their expectations of what he was after. And it’s very ironic.


The way how art is displayed becomes Asher’s subject and a key to his ideas. In its presentation lies the meaning. Asher just makes propositions “what if” and thus gives a foundation for a phenomenological basis. Therefore, by interpretation of the subject and interaction of that subject with an object, knowledge is produced. The world is not a set of objects (or artworks in this case), it is more an interaction between the mind and the world (internal vs. external, subjective vs. objective, viewer’s mind vs. artwork). Thus, conscious thinking is essential, and it is all produced by how Asher exhibits his work. 


Recently, one of the gallerists said to me, “We couldn’t sell your work. Nobody wants to buy it.” I don't think I care. The artists like Michael Asher didn’t care either. It is impossible to find the truth while running for the price tags. 

Alex Vlasov

November 2022


Michael Asher, Claire S. Copley Gallery, Los Angeles, California, USA, September 21–October 12, 1974, view through the gallery toward the office and storage areas. For this work, Asher removed the partition wall dividing the office and gallery space, revealing the day-to-day activities of the gallery to the public. Photograph by Gary Krueger. © Michael Asher Foundation.