Since first encountering Bertolt Brecht’s “Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties” (1935) as a student, Hans Haacke has acted on the idea that art could be a vehicle for telling the truth—especially overlooked truths about the political and economic systems that govern our lives. Over the years, Haacke has deftly shifted his content and methods, tailoring them for specific contexts. Best known for his investigative installation projects, he has also produced prints throughout his professional career, exploiting their multiplicity and mobility: he worked at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in Paris in 1960–61, at Crown Point Press in the 1970s and ’80s, and most recently designed a public poster campaign as part of the current Documenta.
Early Works On and In Paper
Haacke graduated from the Staatliche Werkakademie (Kassel, Germany) in 1960 and began an association with the European Zero group, founded by Heinz Mack, Günther Uecker and Otto Piene, which rejected the gestural emphasis of abstract expressionism in favor of impersonal material effects and spectator participation. In 1960–61 Haacke was painting two-color abstractions with all-over compositions of repeated geometric forms that “tease[d] the retina and thus appeared to vibrate.”1 An international exchange grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) allowed him to spend a year at Atelier 17, where he responded to the breadth of intaglio techniques and openness to experimentation he encountered in the workshop.2 In late 1961 he abandoned painting for what he considered its falseness, and began making inkless intaglio prints.3 Blind embossing had been used by Hayter and others as a compositional complement to inked elements in the image, and also to embed makers’ or collectors’ marks in a sheet (printers’ “chops,” etc.), but Haacke elevated the technique from a supplemental element to exclusive content.
In the fall of 1961 Haacke began a Fulbright fellowship and moved to New York, where the majority of his embossed prints were made, and where his first solo show, at the Wittenborn One-Wall Gallery (inside the eponymous bookstore), featured the embossings alongside a reflective metallic sculpture.4 Haacke’s inkless impressions come in several compositional varieties: some, like those first made at Atelier 17, have rectangular surfaces pocked by rounded rises at almost regular intervals—order just slightly undermined, much like the configurations of droplets observable in his sculptures such as Condensation Cube (1963), a Plexiglas box in which a small amount of water changes state. Other prints employ rows of diagonal depressions forming a rectangle, or circular indentations spiraling tighter toward the center like the head of a sunflower.5 The prints’ reduction of elements and impersonal compositions fly in the face of the autographic mark-making that dominated art in the 1940s and ’50s. The production of all-white prints was not, however, unique to Haacke: in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1964 exhibition “Contemporary Painters and Sculptors as Printmakers,” he was one of five showing inkless intaglios.6
In keeping with the ideals of Zero, as well as of Brecht (whose anti-illusionism called for exposed lighting in theatrical performances), Haacke valued real effects over representations. His prints, in which visual interest is generated by concrete effects of light and shadow, fulfilled his new criteria. Even so, it is possible to see the inkless intaglio composition Untitled (Number 5) (1962) as a reflection of early 1960s technological developments. Its dimensions—roughly three-by-nine inches—and its regular clusters of chad-sized bumps are suggestive of what might happen if a computer punch card was run through a press: a poetic collision of art and technology that anticipates later projects. Sculptor George Rickey saw such use of optical phenomena, light and movement as an extension of early-20th-century Russian Constructivism.7 Though less revolutionary than their Soviet predecessors, the producers of this 1960s “Constructivism” did intend their works to catalyze new ways of acting and thinking within and beyond galleries.
The critic Craig Owens considered Haacke’s work from ca. 1970 onward to be part of a shift in cultural production “from work to frame”: Haacke turned away from purely physical phenomena and toward the institutional structures within which art was created and consumed.8 An earlier, inchoate version of this logic can be traced back to Haacke’s use of uninked, embossed paper to create objects whose visual interest stems from the lighting conditions of their surroundings. Made of (and in) paper, Haacke’s prints work much like the Plexiglas towers and columns containing immiscible liquids, which he hoped visitors would manipulate: “their environments—including the spectator—form an integral part of them…they are not fixed.”9 When turned or manipulated with respect to light, the prints’ relief surfaces are enlivened by changing light and shadow. They tempt ludic interaction in contrast to the apprehension of timelessness often thought to characterize high art.10 The prints begin to fulfill the goal Haacke articulated a few years later to “make something, which the ‘spectator’ handles, with which he plays and thus animates.”11
Politics and Para-Citation
In 1967 Haacke joined Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), the organization cofounded by artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman and engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer to bridge the “two cultures” of science and art.12 With curator Pontus Hulten, Klüver and Rauschenberg put together a collection of 30 works by New York artists of the 1960s for the Moderna Museet in Sweden, and organized a portfolio of prints—The New York Collection for Stockholm—to raise funds for its purchase.13
Haacke’s print for the portfolio consisted of information derived from research conducted as part of his piece John Weber Gallery Visitors’ Profile, I and II (1972–3). In part one, Haacke asked gallery visitors to respond to a 20-question survey, the results of which were exhibited as part two. A screenprinted text based on a typewritten original describes the project and gives the responses to one question about choosing between the presidential candidates George McGovern and Richard Nixon: 74.7 percent of gallery visitors favored McGovern.14 The tally underscored the anti-Vietnam War, anti-Nixon stances of New Yorkers in the arts, suggesting they might have more in common with their Swedish colleagues than with Nixon’s “silent majority.”15 With the print’s typeface and plain white sheet, Haacke embraced an anti-aesthetic of bureaucratic paperwork.16 In addition to this limited-edition screenprint, Haacke released the image in “unlimited Xerox editions” and published it in Artforum.17
In 1976–77, Rauschenberg donated copies of EAT’s NYCS Portfolio to numerous art institutions, bringing Haacke’s art into the collections of the National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time. Many museums and galleries viewed the artist with some trepidation after a contretemps with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in which his 1971 solo show at the museum was cancelled when he refused to alter works that exposed the ownership of slum housing in New York (he was also planned to include another polling project).18
Haacke, however, continued to answer Brecht’s call to “manipulate the truth as a weapon.”19 Using techniques that might be termed parasitic or para-citational—redeploying corporate graphic design and texts to critique their sources—Haacke adapted Brecht’s strategies of “refunctioning” (Umfunktionierung) and estrangement (Verfremdung) for visual art.20
Mobilization (1975) is a four-color screenprint and one of a number of Haacke works highlighting Mobil Oil’s strategic art sponsorship. Printed on plastic (a petroleum product), Haacke’s panel embodies the business it appraises. The Mobil logo appears in its familiar red, white and blue above excerpted texts, each with a full bibliographic citation: the first, from the Columbia Journal of World Business, discusses how Mobile used arts funding to build national support; the second is the typescript of a 1975 talk by a Mobil public relations manager, noting how effective the company’s sponsorship of the Smithsonian’s then-upcoming American Bicentennial Exhibition was in strengthening the firm’s credibility in Washington, DC. When originally delivered, at a conference of advertising agencies, the speech would have been understood as a celebration of achievement. But viewed through the prism of Haacke’s artwork—which was exhibited at the Max Protech Gallery in Washington concurrent with the Smithsonian show being discussed—Mobil’s engagement comes across as more cynical than patriotic.21
Mobil’s operations continued to occupy Haacke for nearly a decade. Upstairs at Mobil: Musings of a Shareholder, made at Crown Point Press in 1981–82, was “a large and important work for both artist and publisher,” according to Ruth Fine.22 The ten-part color photo-etching reproduces a stock certificate for ten shares of Mobil Corporation, which Haacke has cut up and covered with handwritten texts culled from advertisements, corporate reports and newspaper articles. (The handwriting is based on Haacke’s, but was executed by Crown Point printers Hidekatsu Takada and Nancy Anello, as well as by the artist himself.)
The print takes its title from two sources, both of which serves as PR for Mobil: the popular British Edwardian soap opera “Upstairs, Downstairs,” which ran on PBS with conspicuous support from Mobil, and an advertising campaign of pseudo–Op Ed essays, each of which began “Musings of . . .” Haacke wished to highlight the degree to which the Public Broadcasting Service was privately bankrolled (Mobil’s contributions to PBS were so dominant that some dubbed it the “petroleum broadcasting system”).23 There were concerns that, in addition to generating goodwill, Mobil’s support may also have had an impact on programming decisions, such as the airing of economist Milton Friedman’s ten-part 1980 series, “Free to Choose,” advocating free-market economic policies.24 The “Musings of . . .” advertisements similarly adopted an appearance of disinterested public service, presenting themselves as brief essays penned by “an oil person,” a “confused oil person,” a “proud oil person,” etc. Both halves of Haacke’s title thus raise questions about the power of covert interests in the public sphere.
By insinuating one form of valuable print (the stock certificate) into another (the limited-edition print), Haacke highlights the intersection of systems of art and commerce. Both types of print employ antiquated print techniques, signatures, blindstamps and numbering to connote authority and authenticity. As with banknotes, the certificates’ elaborate engraving is both ornamental and functional: they impede copying. By defacing and creating a reproduction (faux) stock certificate, Haacke undermines corporate authority and implicates art authority. In directing our attention to the overlap between art and finance he echoes Marcel Duchamp’s 1924 Monte Carlo Bond, an artwork-certificate for a purported joint stock company, whose funds would be used to play roulette. The parallel between stocks and art is underscored by the stock certificate statement, “transferable in New York,” the center of both the global stock market and the global art market in the 1980s.25
Haacke had ceased signing artworks with his full name in 1962, hoping to combat the cult of the author, but Upstairs at Mobil bears his full moniker, which had been printed on the original document to certify his ownership. In the process becoming a shareholder, Hans C. Haacke was inscribed into the firm’s registers alongside a serial number. In breaking the certificate up onto ten plates, Haacke sliced his name in two: “Hans C. Ha” appears on one print, “acke” on another. The corporation’s name is broken up as well. Haacke’s replication and mutilation of the certificate, of course, had no bearing on the consequences of stock ownership: dividends for ten shares continued to be sent to the artist.
Like many of Haacke’s projects, Upstairs at Mobil relies on the cultural weight of art institutions to amplify its message. Print study rooms and galleries provide their holdings with gravity, and in the case of artworks with political as well as aesthetic content, their information may be attended to more carefully in such “studious” settings.26 Encountered in an art space (or even in this article), Mobil’s statements come under closer scrutiny than they might otherwise. Among the statements scrawled over the stock certificate are the following:
The Official Secrets Act of South Africa prohibits disclosure of information on petroleum matters even to a corporate parent. Obviously we cannot ask our South African subsidiary to break the law . . .
Mobil does everything to insure the stability of South Africa. Our board argues: “the denial of supplies to the police and military forces in a host county is hardly consistent with an image of good citizenship in that country.”
Under the Reagan Administration, free-market forces will play their natural role . . .
The moral majority is in ascendance/ And we are with it.
Through the act of reframing, Haacke lets Mobil reveal its sinister side.
Haacke’s earlier Crown Point project, Tiffany Cares (1977–78), also uses his target’s own words against itself, in this case a Tiffany and Co. advertisement touting the virtues of trickle-down economics. The piece exists in two versions: the first is an etched, silver-plated copper plate, placed in a gold-stamped, satin box on a pedestal—a precious object evoking engraved jewelry and the printing process; the second is an etching that, like the copper plate, reproduces the ad, whose text concludes “Mr. Rich Man, you would be supporting (wholly or partially) perhaps more than 100 people . . . Are you a menace? No, you are not.” Opposite the advertisement is Haacke’s terse riposte, delicately wrought in Tiffany script: “The 9,240,000 Unemployed in the United States of America Demand the Immediate Creation of More Millionaires.” In place of a signature, each impression is stamped on the verso, “Designed and Approved by Hans Haacke.” His lessons about the generation of consent—and the need to contest received information with facts—continue to be relevant.27
Tiffany Cares is one of Haacke’s most visible prints. The fact that printmaking is sometimes considered a “minor” medium in the history of art has facilitated its acquisition and exhibition within institutions.28 Tiffany Cares has appeared in major shows, such as the National Gallery’s “Thirty-Five Years at Crown Point Press: Making Prints, Doing Art” (1997) and “Committed to Print” (1988) at MoMA—one of the handful of times his work has appeared at the museum since his MOMA-Poll in 1970, which asked museum visitors about Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s position on the Vietnam War.29 The NGA has one of Haacke’s early Plexiglas sculptures on prominent display, but the 1997 showing of Tiffany Cares marks the sole instance of one of his language-based works appearing in the galleries.30 (It is important to note, however, that both museums have print study rooms where members of the public can make requests to view materials, enabling works like Haacke’s to be seen even when not on display.)
Conclusion: Publicity, People,
Positioning Haacke’s recent print endeavors are engineered to interrupt advertising, the form of print that most permeates urban life.31 In 2001–02, he returned to inkless printmaking for a Creative Time commission marking 9/11: white posters with die-cut silhouettes of the World Trade Center were wheatpasted over existing commercial announcements, cancelling and reframing what lay below, marking commerce and also absence.
His current project for Documenta 14, Wir (alle) sind das Volk—We (all) are the people (2017), fills advertising spaces in Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany, with posters on which the title phrase is repeated in 12 different languages, from German and English to Kurdish and Berber, bordered by a rainbow roll.32 What could be read initially as a “feel-good” celebration of diversity is actually more complex and layered.33 The slogan is an amended version of the rallying cry “Wir sind das Volk” (We are the people) used in the 1989–90 protests that help bring down the East German state, but that same slogan has been adopted more recently by the right wing, anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement. The word “Volk” itself bears uncomfortable associations with Nazism and a belief in ethnic superiority. Once again, he seems to draw lessons from Brecht’s “Writing the Truth,” which addresses the question of people versus population. Haacke conjures these historical meanings and also proposes new inflections of “Volk.”
His posters come at a time when the accommodation of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan has divided voters throughout Europe and North America, with Germany taking far more than any other nation. Haacke repurposes historically charged language to reckon with the reality that the distinction between citizen and refugee is imposed by circumstance and is mutable—an acknowledgment that leads to practical questions of who should be able to freely enter and access rights within the nation state. Implicit in his selection of languages is an address to people on both sides of this divide, and an attempt to disrupt the monolingualism that often serves nationalism.
Haacke carefully selects his data and precisely choreographs its delivery; he does not mandate fixed conclusions. Rather, his prints—inkless intaglios, corporate designs and speech providing damning information, and recoded statements advertising inclusion—are poetic and political short-circuits. His challenging prints must be worked out by spec-tators; they probe their audiences’ commitments, asking them to move in new directions and strike their own positions.
- Hans Haacke cited in Alexander Alberro, Working Conditions: The Writings of Hans Haacke (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016), xii.
- Haacke must have considered the work important at the time, as he presented Hayter with an artist’s proof of the inkless intaglio Untitled (1961), inscribed on the verso: “souvenir d’artiste pour Bill from Hans Haacke.” See Carla Esposito, Hayter e l’Atelier 17 (Rome: Ministerio per i Beni Culturali, instituto Nazionale per la Grafica, The British Council, 1990), 225, 248249.
- Untitled (1960), now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, is an example of an inked etching from this period.
- Hans Haacke in conversation with author, 11 May 2017. The sculpture was The Battle of Reichenfels (1961). Four of these abstract works on paper, two with Wittenborn labels, subsequently entered the collection of the New York Public Library. The Museum of Modern Art owns four similar prints.
- This typology is based on examples in the collection of the artist, the Museum of Modern Art, and the New York Public Library.
- The other artists in the 1964 MoMA show were Josef Albers, Antonio Boni, Etienne Hajdu, and Omar Rayo.
- George Rickey, Constructivism: Origins and Evolution (New York: George Braziller, 1967), vii, 179–222.
- Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), 131–133.
- Hans Haacke, “Untitled Statement,” Philadelphia, 7 January 1965, reprinted in Hans Haacke: For Real , ed. Matthias Flügge and Robert Fleck (Düsseldorf: Richter, 2006), 82.
- See John Thwaites, “Younger German Artists: Hans Haacke’s Works Require the Viewer to Lend a Hand,” The Bulletin (26 Oct 1965), 8.
- Hans Haacke, “Untitled List of Goals,” January 1965, written for NUL. The same goals were used in Peter Selz’s Directions in Kinetic Sculpture (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1966), 37.
- See C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959).
- The New York Collection for Stockholm Portfolio (1973) included works by Lee Bontecou, Robert Breer, John Chamberlain, Walter De Maria, Jim Dine, Mark di Suvero, Oyvind Fahlström, Dan Flavin, Red Grooms. Hans Haacke, Alex Hay, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Morris. Louise Nevelson, Kenneth Noland, Claes Oldenburg, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, James Rosenquist, George Segal, Richard Serra, Keith Sonnier, Richard Stankiewicz, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and Robert Whitman. It was printed by Styria Studio and published by Experiments in Art and Technology, New York, in an edition of 300. Haacke’s contribution is Untitled from The New York Collection for Stockholm (1973), silkscreen on white wove paper, composition (irreg.): 4 7/8 x 6 1/2 inches; sheet: 12 x 9 inches.
- McGovern won 37.5 percent of the popular vote nationwide, showing a distinction between the art world and broader US electorate. Haacke also donated an impression of the inkless intaglio Untitled (1962) to the exhibition “Artists for McGovern” in 1972 at the Feigen Gallery in New York.
- Richard Nixon’s “’Silent Majority’ Speech” (Washington, DC, 3 Nov 1969) argued that despite the vocal opponents of the Vietnam War, most Americans were in favor of the conflict but chose not to manifest their sentiments publicly. The Swedish government’s opposition to the Vietnam War led the US to withdraw its ambassador when then-education minister Olof Palme participated in a 1968 anti-war protest with Nguyen Tao Chan, the North Vietnamese ambassador to the Soviet Union. For an account of Swedish artists’ reactions to NYCS see Nils Stenquist cited in Paul Richard, “Mixed Blessings of Artistic Fame,” Washington Post, 1 Nov 1973, B1.
- For more on this idea see Julia Bryan-Wilson, Art Workers (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009), 173–214.
- See Hans Haacke, “Hans Haacke’s Gallery Visitor’s Profile,” Artforum 11, no. 10 (June 1973), 44.
- Guggenheim director Thomas Messer believed he has thus purged “an alien substance that had entered the art museum organism.” See Messer cited in Benjamin Buchloh, “Hans Haacke: Memory and Instrumental Reason,” in Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 208.
- Bertolt Brecht, “Difficulties of Writing the Truth,” in Hans Haacke, eds. Walter Grasskamp and Hans Haacke (New York: Phaidon, 2004), 92–97.
- Following Fredric Jameson and Ernst Bloch, I translate Verfremdung as “estrangement” rather than “defamiliarization.” See Jameson, Brecht and Method (New York: Verso, 1998), 85–86n13 and Bloch, “Entfremdung, Verfremdung: Alienation, Estrangement,” TDR 15, no. 1 (Autumn 1970): 120–25. According to Bloch’s definition of estrangement, “The strange externality purposes to let the beholder contemplate experience separated, as in a frame, or heightened, as on a pedestal. As has been suggested, this leads increasingly away from the usual and makes the beholder pause and take notice. Thus a faint aura of estrangement already inheres in the kind of spoken inflection that will suddenly make the hearer listen anew” (123). Additionally, following William Burling, Verfremdung is best grasped as a subset of Umfunktionierung (functional transformation/ refunctioning). See Burling, “Brecht’s ‘U-effect’: Theorizing the Horizons of Revolutionary Theatre,” in Brecht, Broadway, and United States Theatre, ed. Chris Westgate (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007): 166–187.
- According to Jack Burnham, “lawyers working for US Senate committees concerned with energy legislation took note of Haacke’s artworks,” reproducing some of the quotes that the artist selected for inclusion. See Burnham, “The Clarification of Social Reality,” in Hans Haacke: Recent Work (Chicago: Renaissance Society, 1979), 6.
- Ruth Fine, “Kathan Brown and Crown Point Press,” in Thirty-Five Years at Crown Point Press: Making Prints, Doing Art (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, National Gallery of Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1997), n48.
- See, for instance, Michael Parenti, Dirty Truths (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1996), 101–106.
- For more on PBS and private sponsorship in the era, see the following: Barbara Isenberg, “Is Corporate Funding Stifling PBS? The Corporations and Public TV PBS Funding,” Los Angeles Times, 9 Dec 1979, N1; Floyd Norris, Associated Press. “The Giving Game: Corporate Charitability Raises Ethical Questions,” Boston Globe, 10 Aug 1980, http://proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxyau.wrlc.org/docview/293981464?accountid=8285; James Bowman, “What Elmo Doesn’t Want You to Know,” Wall Street Journal, Eastern edition; New York, 23 Dec 1996, A10; or J.S. Saloma, Ominous Politics: The New Conservative Labyrinth (New York: Hill and Wang, 1984), 107.
- See Peter C.T. Elsworth, “The Art Boom: Is It Over, or Is This Just a Correction?” New York Times, 16 Dec 1990, http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/16/business/the-art-boom-is-it-over-or-is-this-just-a-correction.html.
- For more on this idea, see Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986), 15.
- The artist is still concerned about Tiffany advertisements that appear on the third page of the New York Times. Haacke email to author, July 23, 2017.
- For a critical assessment of the esteem of print in Western art see, for instance, Luis Camnitzer, On Art, Artists, Latin America, and Other Utopias, ed. Rachel Weiss (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 44–46.
- Rockefeller’s mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was a cofounder of the museum. A collage, Cowboy with Cigarette (1990), is one exception. It was included in Kynaston McShine’s The Museum as Muse (1999).
- The sculpture in question is Condensation Wall (1963/1966), which has been on view in the renovated East Building since it reopened in September 2016.
- In addition to the two projects described here, Haacke also did a public poster project for Documenta X, Standortkultur (1997).
- The languages include Albanian, Arabic, Berber, English, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Kurdish, Polish, Turkish, and Russian.
- Corinna Kirsch and Anastasia Tuazon, “Documenta 14: Learning From Athens, Learning From Crisis,” ArtFCity.com, 9 June 2017, accessed 19 July 2017, http://artfcity.com/2017/06/09/documenta-14-learning-from-athens-learning-from-crisis/.