Systems Work (1970-present)
Haacke's interest in real-time systems propelled him into his criticism of social and political systems. In most of his work after the late 1960s, Haacke focused on the art world and the system of exchange between museums and corporations and corporate leaders; he often underlines its effects in site-specific ways.
Haacke has been outspoken throughout his career about demystifying the relationship between museums and businesses and their individual practices. He writes, "what we have here is a real exchange of capital: financial capital on the part of the sponsors and symbolic capital on the part of the sponsored". Using this concept of Pierre Bourdieu's, Haacke is underlining the idea that corporate sponsorship of art enhances their public reputation, which is of material use to them. Haacke believes, moreover, that both parties are aware of this exchange, and as an artist, Haacke is intent on making this relationship clear to viewers.
In 1970 Hans Haacke proposed a work for the exhibition entitled Information to be held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (an exhibition meant to be an overview of current younger artists), according to which the visitors would be asked to vote on a current socio-political issue. The proposal was accepted, and Haacke prepared his installation, entitled MoMA Poll, but did not hand in the specific question until right before the opening of the show. His query asked, "Would the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon's Indochina Policy be a reason for your not voting for him in November?" Visitors were asked to deposit their answers in the appropriate one of two transparent Plexiglas ballot boxes. At the end of the exhibition, there were approximately twice as many Yes ballots as No ballots. Haacke's question commented directly on the involvements of a major donor and board member at MOMA, Nelson Rockefeller. This installation is an early example of what in the art world came to be known as institutional critique.
In one of his best-known works, which quickly became an art historical landmark, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971, Haacke took on the real-estate holdings of one of New York City's biggest slum landlords. The work exposed, through meticulous documentation and photographs, the questionable transactions of Harry Shapolsky's real-estate business between 1951 and 1971. Haacke's solo show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which was to include this work and which made an issue of the business and personal connections of the museum's trustees, was cancelled on the grounds of artistic impropriety by the museum's director six weeks before the opening. (Shapolsky was not such a trustee, although some have misunderstood the affair by assuming that he was.) Curator Edward Fry was consequently fired for his support of the work.
Following the abrupt cancellation of his exhibition and the trouble it had caused with the museum, Haacke turned to other galleries, to Europe and his native country, where his work was more often accepted. Ten years later he included the Shapolsky work—by then widely known—at his solo exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, entitled "Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business".
At the John Weber gallery in New York, in 1972, on two separate occasions, Haacke created a sociological study, collecting data from gallery visitors. He requested the visitors fill out a questionnaire with 20 questions ranging from their personal demographic background information to opinions on social and political issues. The results of the questionnaires were translated into pie charts and bar graphs that were presented in the gallery at a later date. They revealed, among other things, that most visitors were related in some way to the professions of art, art teaching, and museology, and most were politically liberal.
In 1974, Haacke submitted another proposal that was subsequently rejected for an exhibition at the Wallraf-Richartz museum in Cologne. The work described a well-documented history of the ownership (with individual biographies of each of the owners) of Manet's painting Bunch of Asparagus in the museum's collection, narrating how it came into the collection, and in which the Third Reich activities of its donor were revealed. Instead, the work was exhibited in the Paul Menz Gallery in Cologne with a color reproduction in place of the original.
In 1975, Haacke created a similar piece to the Manet project at the John Weber gallery in New York, exposing the history of ownership of Seurat's Les Poseuses (small version). In the same manner as the previous installation, this work showed the increase of the value of the work as it passed from one patron to another.
Also In 1975, he created one of his most memorable installations, entitled On Social Grease. The work, which takes its title from a speech by a corporate head of one of the world's major oil companies, is made up of carefully factured plaques exhibiting quotes from business executives and important art world figures. These plaques display their opinions on the system of exchange between museums and businesses, speaking directly to the importance of the arts in business practices.
In 1978 Haacke had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, England, that included the new work A Breed Apart, which made explicit criticism of the state-owned British Leyland for exporting vehicles for police and military use to apartheid South Africa.
His 1979 solo exhibition at Chicago's Renaissance Society featured paintings that reproduced and altered print ads for Mobil, Allied Chemical, and Tiffany & Co.
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