Michael Asher
Untitled Architectural Installation

James Coleman
Seeing for Oneself

June 2 – July 2, 1988

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Installation view from Michael Asher / James Coleman, 1988

Details from Seeing for Oneself
James Coleman, 1987-88

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In the summer of 1988, Artists Space opened an exhibition featuring the work of Michael Asher and James Coleman. The arrangement was unusual given that by the late 1980s both Asher and Coleman had already garnered critical notoriety, and unlike many shows at the time that were realized rapidly in a matter of months, preparations for this exhibition spanned two years. For the artists, the exhibition was a chance to present work that, because of its site specificity, would not have been as easily exhibited within a commercial context.

Asher's piece intervened in the gallery space by positioning itself as part of the interior’s architecture. In 1988 Artists Space was located at 223 West Broadway, where the gallery was partitioned by twelve-foot walls reaching 44 inches from the ceiling. Asher filled in these upper gaps with unpainted sheetrock, increasing the walls' potential as a functional display system for artwork. In one regard, Asher's piece drew the viewer's awareness to the apparatus of the institution that contained it, while simultaneously affirming its own integrated status within the apparatus. At the close of the exhibition, Asher gave Artists Space the choice of either adopting the new architecture or reverting to the original walls (the extensions were ultimately removed).

Coleman's piece, Seeing for Oneself (1987-88), comprised a 40-minute slideshow and voiceover, which together narrated the story of Tamara, a fictional character who must solve the mystery of her father's death in the old chateau she inherited from him. The piece triangulates image, text, and medium (the projector is present in the space with the bodies of the audience members) at the same time that it deconstructs a narrative in a near-Brechtian fashion. In her essay for the exhibition catalog, Jean Fisher observes, "meaning is to be sought not through mediated, inherited structures of knowledge but through the disjunctions and incongruities we discover in our own enunciations."