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Hans Haacke. ’Obra Social’

“If art contributes to, among other things, the way we view the world amd shape social relations, then it does matter whose image of the world it promotes and whose interests it serves.” Hans Haacke

The work of Hans Haacke (Cologne, 1936) borrows forms, words and styles from systems that appear extraneous to the world of art – from physical and environmental to social and political systems – in order to demonstrate their frequent interdependencies and equivalencies. He appropriates their prevailing meanings, selecting and rearranges them, removing them from their original context and placing them in the new context of a museum or gallery. By focussing on things that are accepted as ordinary occurences commonplace and revealing others that were previously overlooked, he heightens our awareness of ideas.

Haacke’s messages openly defy the status quo. This explains why Haacke is dismissed by art historians and critics – who protest the apparent lack of specifically aesthetic qualities in his work – and by cultural authorities, who shy away from its corrosive social and political comment, refusing to include him in their exhibitions. Heterodoxy and controversy are thus key features of Haacke’s production.

In the late 1950s Hans Haacke was affiliated with Zero, a Düsseldorf-based group of young artists that was known for its search for new artistic strategies, a number of which he soon discovered for himself. Taking natural elements (ice, earth, water, air ) as his point of departure he created complex structures in which time, energy and space took on temporary shapes that were not static exhibition pieces, but what he called real time-systems. In Condensation Cube (1963-1965) he caused water to condense inside a sealed plexiglass cube, forming different-sized drops, some of which grew so large that they slid down the walls of the cube, streaking the surface. The cube’s appearance changed slowly but constantly so that the work was always different.

Following his experiments with physics, Haacke turned his attention to the animal world, after which he began exploring and working with information systems. Although up to then his work had always aimed to intimidate the viewer, at the end of the sixties he began directly involving viewers through the use of surveys and studies. In Polls (1969-1973) Hans Haacke surveyed the people who attended a number of exhibitions in the United States and Germany. He queried them about everything from their places or birth and residence to their attitudes towards certain political events. The data was then computer processed to produce a statistical portrait of the exhibition’s public.

Because Haacke was considered a pioneer of ecological art and one of the leading representatives of process art, he was invited to have a solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1971. One of the works he presented was Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971, a protest against real estate speculators’ deliberate pauperization of urban neighborhoods. The then director of the Guggenheim, Thomas M. Messer, suggested that Haacke voluntarily withdraw the work. He refused and the exhibition was cancelled. Since then Haacke’s experience with this brand of censorship has fuelled his continual and outspoken attacks on economic and political interference in culture. After thoroughly researching his subject matter, Haacke collects all manner of background material and then proceeds to demonstrate the myriad interconnections which assure that a work of art will never be neutral but will always play a part in society.

Outstanding among Haacke’s latest productions are Germania, created for the German pavilion at the 1993 Venice Biennial and his work on the controversial figure of Luciano Benetton, Dying for Benetton (1994), an installation produced for the John Weber Gallery in New York. December 1994 saw the Berlin premiere of a theater and dance piece by Johann Kresnik with sets by Haacke that questioned the figure of the German writer Ernst Jünger.

The Hans Haacke exhibition at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies features a project conceived specifically for the occasion as well as some of the artist’s earlier works, among them the controversial Shapolsky et al., Der Pralinenmeister (The Chocolate Master) (1981) and MetroMobiltan (1985), which are displayed in such a way that close links are woven between them and the work produced especially for the Barcelona event.

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