You are in Artists > Hans Haacke
Place(s) of work: New York (us)
Hans Haacke is a German-American conceptual artist whose controversial works expose the interconnectivity of culture, politics, corruption, and greed. Spanning a range of mediums and drawing upon a variety of contemporary art strategies, from Conceptualism to Land Art, Haacke’s muckraking work often throws back the curtain on the culture industry, probing the shady dealings of museum trustees or other officials who control what is promoted and displayed. As a result of his work, Haacke--who has said he intends his art to "convict" its subject--is regarded as a forefather of an artistic approach known as institutional critique.
Born in Cologne, Germany in 1936, Haacke attended the Staatliche Werkakademie (State Art Academy) in Kassel, where he focused on painting. Winning a Fulbright grant in 1962, he traveled to Philadelphia to study at Temple University, then moved to New York City in 1965. Haacke's early work dealt with systems, particularly those involving natural processes. Condensation Cube (1963-65), for instance, was a plexiglass cube--a nod to the idealized geometry of Minimalism--containing some water that evaporated and condensed according to the conditions of the space in which it was displayed. A simple piece on first glance, the cube contained an implicit questioning of the nature of presentation and exhibition, suggesting that the venue and the people present--with their body heat affecting the temperature--dictated what viewers saw in the artwork. Context and perception, Haacke suggested, influences one’s understanding of an artwork and imbues it with a meaning.
In 1971, Haacke gained widespread notoriety for a solo show at the Guggenheim--in large part because the show never took place. Called "Hans Haacke: Systems," the exhibition was to showcase Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971, a work consisting of 146 photographs of New York apartment buildings, six surveillance-style pictures of business transactions involving prominent slum lord Harry Shapolsky, and maps of Harlem and the Lower East Side. Explanatory text was then to have laid out a legalistic case linking the business concerns of several museum trustees to Shapolsky, whose unethical practices had been overlooked by the authorities on account of his highly-placed connections. Six weeks before the opening of the exhibition, the museum's director, Thomas Messer, canceled the show and fired its curator, Jack Fry, stating that Guggenheim policies "exclude active engagement towards social and political ends." The incident spurred on-site protests against censorship organized by artists who supported Haacke's work.
Controversy became a recurring motif in Haacke’s career. In the 70s, he began putting polls in museums, including the MoMA Poll in 1970, which asked visitors to cast a “yes” or “no” vote to the question: “Would the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon’s Indochina policy be a reason for you not to vote for him in November?” At the time, both Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his brother, David, served on MoMA's board of trustees; their mother was one of the museum's founders. Art, for Haacke, is a medium for provocative political gestures and for encouraging the engagement of otherwise passive viewers. “When viewers are allowed or even asked to handle an object, its institutional sanctity is no longer intact. It is off the alter,” Haacke has explained. “[The viewers] are the ones who produce the meaning of an artifact: it is a social product.”
In addition to satirizing the perceived respectability of art institutions, Haacke's work has also engaged with the Nazi legacy of his native Germany--sometimes intertwining the two concerns. He won the Golden Lion at the 1993 Venice Biennale for Germania, his contribution for the German pavilion that consisted of a floor covered in ruptured concrete tiles leading up to an imposingly grand lettering of the work's title, which was the name Hitler conceived for his ideal Aryan state; the piece also detailed the connection between the Biennale's origins and Fascist Italy. In 1999, when Haacke was invited to create a work to mark the reopening of Berlin's Reichstag parliament building, he had a large trench dug in one of the building's plazas with the word “Der Bevölkerung” (the people) spelled out in large neon lettering. The plot was then filled with dirt that each parliament representative brought from their constituent regions. This piece, divisive to this day, references the Reichstag's 1915 inscription “DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLK” (to the German people), a phrase that recalls the Nazi party's fetishizing of the country's “Volk”; furthermore, the dirt utilized in the piece suggests the “Blut und Boden" (Blood and Soil) of Nazi propaganda.
Over his long career, Haacke has launched artistic salvos at such commercial powers as Philip Morris, Daimler-Benz. Mobil, Tiffany & Co., and Charles Saatchi—-exposing their sometimes clandestine financing of major art institutions as a means of exerting political or otherwise propagandistic influence through culture. (Which Haacke mordantly calls "social grease.") Asked once why he persisted in showing his work within the art world's institutional framework, Haacke replied, "You have to be part of the system in order to participate in a public discourse." Since the attacks on the World Trade Center, Haacke has begun to produce works which are informed more by contemporary issues of globalization and war than by institutional malfeasance. A longtime teacher at Cooper Union, Haacke lives and works in New York City.
Watch a short video of Hans Haacke installing a show:
Watch a video walk-through of a Hans Haacke installation at Paula Cooper, featuring Wide White Flow (1967-2006):(read less)
Techniques & Media: Installation, Mixed Media, Painting, Photography, Sculpture
Inspirations & Key Themes: greed, institutional critique, Politics, process, systems