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Hans Haacke

German Conceptual and Multimedia Artist

Hans Haacke Photo
Movements and Styles: Conceptual Art, Institutional Critique

Born: August 12th, 1936 - Cologne, Germany

"all artworks have a political component - whether it's intended or not."

Summary of Hans Haacke

Hans Haacke largely invented modern 'artivism' as a political strategy for conceptual artists. His work intervenes through the space of the museum or gallery to decry the influence of corporations on society and reveal the hypocrisy of liberal institutions accepting sponsorship from aggressive and conservative capitalists. This work has been immensely significant in prefiguring the modern challenge to 'artwashing', the attempted diversion from harmful business practices through philanthropic engagement with the arts.

Haacke's politics extend to his artistic career, providing a principled example to artists and audiences. He still maintains partial ownership over his artworks after sale, for example, allowing him a measure of control over the extent to which his protest can be coopted by the art market. As a teacher and writer Haacke's influence is not only in the work he directly produced himself, but in the dissemination of his political strategies through later generations of artists. Haacke's fearlessness and refusal to bend in relation to institutional pressure has had an enduring legacy that persists to this day.

Key Ideas

Haacke's work often shows a lack of respect or reverence towards institutions and convention. His curation pieces, for example, lay bare the inner workings of a gallery or museum for the public to see, questioning conventions of behavior towards art objects. He highlights simple or everyday materials (water, grass, a potted plant) as worthy of serious observation, whilst placing historical artifacts on the floor or in rough piles. His work also invites participation, asking that audiences read, absorb and act on the things it reveals. This has contributed to contemporary conversations about access and political responsibility still going on in museums and galleries today.
Despite his resistance to the financial and corporate structures of the art market, Haacke's work has grown in profile to the point where it is now recognized and pursued by museums as work that is highly significant in the development of political visual art practices. After the censure, denial and scandal, his work is now invited into institutions rather than kept out.
Haacke 'lives' his politics even through his interactions with the art world - a market-driven international network of capital. By not relying on the sale of artworks to support himself or his family he is able to decide when and how to exhibit and create, and he maintains an unprecedented level of control over the pieces that he does sell to collectors. This provides a model for artists who wish to critique the art world without being wholly subsumed within its inherently capitalist framework.
Formally, Haacke's work shares characteristics of Land Art and Minimalism but maintains a far sharper political edge than the archetypal examples of those practices. Drawing on highly symbolic processes and materials, his sculptures and installations highlight the same relationships in the gallery space as more conventional minimalist sculpture, but also make more direct allusions to history, politics and the world in which the sculptures are made. His work offers a challenge to the supposed detachment of minimalism or the monumentalism of Land Art, demonstrating to audiences and artists that the same techniques have potential as tools of direct political critique.
Hans Haacke Photo

Hans Christoph Carl Haacke was born in Cologne in 1936, during the period of extreme social change that saw the rise of the Nazi Government in Germany. By the time he was three years old WWII had begun, and by the age of six bombs regularly fell on the street he lived on. In his own words, "I remember walking by a still smoking ruin on my way to school." His father was affiliated with the Social Democratic party and refused to join the Nazis, costing him his job with the city of Cologne. Such traumatic episodes led the Haacke family to move from Cologne to a small rural town in the southern district of Bad Godesberg.

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