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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From Site to Comparative Relations: Works by Michael Asher, 1976–1998

  • Author(s): Moon, Kavior
  • Advisor(s): Kwon, Miwon
  • et al.

This dissertation is a study of how U.S. artist Michael Asher (1943–2012) integrated what he called a “logic of comparative relations” into his situational, site-based method from the mid-1970s to the end of the 1990s. Art historians have canonized Asher as a pivotal artist who developed the Minimalist strategy of site-specificity into a conceptual critique of art institutions. Asher is largely understood today through his early architectural interventions in the “white cube” space of galleries and museums in the late 1960s and 1970s, in which pre-existing elements found on-site were temporarily removed or rearranged to reveal the physical, social, and/or economic systems on which the commissioning art institution depended in order to function. This dissertation brings into view how Asher’s concept of site transformed by the end of the 1990s to encompass a greater range of spatial, historical, and discursive references by producing comparative relations between elements found at an institutional site to those outside of it, which in turn determined the institutional site in some foundational way.

By using “comparative relations” to juxtapose elements found inside and outside an institutional site, Asher’s later works used a relational logic to redefine site as a location that could be understood through both local and global perspectives and as a point in time linked to both the past and the future. Each chapter of this dissertation is devoted to the conceptualization, production, materialization, and interpretation of one work by Asher, covering the arc of the work’s history from its inception to reception. The chapters examine the following artworks: Asher’s “Installation M�nster” (1977, 1987, 1997) for Skulptur Projekte in M�nster, Germany, a recurring exhibition of outdoor public art; his untitled work (1991) for the Stuart Collection at the University of California, San Diego, a permanent collection of site-specific art; and his untitled installation (1998) for the 24th S�o Paulo Bienal in Brazil, an international contemporary art biennial.

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