August 12 - Happy Birthday, Hans Haacke

Posted on August 12, 2018

Today's famous birthday is an artist was born in Germany - BUT he's a great boon to the U.S. and the world. (Actually, he has lived in the U.S. for the past 57 years!)

The reason Hans Haacke, who was born on this date in 1936, is so important and influential is that he has made art about politics, and about social justice, and about the most powerful institutions.

He's been called a "pioneer of institutional critique."

He has even dared to criticize the institutions and people that rule the art world. He has exposed the connections between art, politics, and money. Check out this video to learn why...

Haacke points out that ALL art touches on the political - even art that isn't meant to. That's because politics impacts everything from the natural world to human societies, from childbirth to death and in-between.

Check out this Haacke piece:

This giant box of 5-foot-long cigarettes might seem like it would be a comment on the health risks of cigarette smoking - but it's not. Instead, this piece from a couple of decades ago was a complex commentary on a politician, a corporation, and the business of art: 

First, a Senator named Jesse Helms worked against funding certain artists and artworks because he personally thought they were obscene.  (Helms made it very clear that anything having to do with homosexuality or the LGBTQ community were - in his opinion - disgusting and offensive, and therefore obscene.) Notice that the cigarette brand is Helmsboro, which is a combination of a real brand, Marlboro, and Senator Helms's name. Also, Helms's picture appears inside the logo on the box.

Second, the Philip Morris cigarette companies funded Helms's political campaigns and were important sources of jobs in Helms's state. At the time, Philip Morris was advertising that they would send a copy of the Bill of Rights from the U.S. Constitution to anyone who requested one. So Haacke's giant cigarettes had copies of the Bill of Rights attached to them and were marked "Philip Morris funds Jesse Helms." 

Third, Haacke included on the cigarette box two quotes: an art-promoting quote from a Philip Morris exec, and a homophobic quote from Senator Helms. The inclusion of both points out the hypocrisy of the cigarette company trying to act like it's interested in culture and art, like it wants to make the world a better place - BUT the same company quietly donates money to a bigoted politician who is very anti-art. (Not to mention that the company makes the world a less healthy place!)

Here are some other politically-minded pieces by Haacke:


The Business Behind Art Knows the Art of the Koch Brothers

Here is a video of beautiful piece that might not be political! It's called "Blue Sail."

What you do not see in this video is that the shapes and movement are created from an oscillating fan:

Also on this date:

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