HANS HAACKE

(b. 1936, Cologne, lives and works in New York)

Since 1961 Hans Haacke has been making works that he describes as a “real time system” in them he investigates changes influenced by natural, economic, social and political conditions. In the late 1960s Haacke began to politicize the languages of minimalism and conceptualism. He absorbed documentary strategies to discuss issues he was dealing with. In the mid 1970s, he became increasingly interested in critiqueing institutions of art, their funders, and the often disguised relationships between their internalised practices of business and politics.

In one of his most well-known works, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real-Time Social System as of
May 1, 1971 (1971), Haacke exposed the malpractice of Harry Shapolsky’s real-estate business. The work caused Haacke’s April 1971 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York to be cancelled. The curator, who defended the work, was fired. Shapolsky was one of the Board members of the Guggenheim Museum who owned more slum properties than any- one else in New York. He was well protected by influential friends, and guilty of an assortment of fraudulent practices of which the judicial system had been exceedingly forgiving.

In Seurat’s ‘Les Poseuses’ (small version) 1888-1975 (1975), Haacke adopts the role of an art historian and tracks down the provenance of this painting by Georges Seurat. In the work, a color photograph of the Les Poseuses, which the artist had most likely given to Jules F. Chistophe, his anarchist friend as a gift, is accompanied by 14 panels each listing the resale price of the work and the information about the people who paid for it. The history of the ownership of the work displayed by Haacke traces the shift from an old-style family patronage as experienced in the late 19th century to a new brokering of art-as commodity, as seen in the late 20th century. Neither the value nor the meaning of a work is timeless or autonomous, but historically contingent and strongly affected by changing class or commercial interests.
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