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Connie S amaras Sponsorship or Censorship November 1985 Since the late 1960s, Hans Haacke has emerged as one of the most influential and progressive political artists in the twentieth century. Born in Cologne, Germany, in 1936, he has lived since 1965 in New York, where he currently teaches at Cooper Union Haacke’s earlier works dealt with natural systems, paralleling his interest at that time in General Systems Theory. Working first with physical systems, he constructed kinetic and multi-media works that also dealt with biological and social systems. Since the late ’60s, Haacke’s work has been concerned almost entirely with social issues. A long-time critic of corporate sponsorship of the arts, Haacke has constructed a number of searing works that unveil the dark side of corporate support. Media and style are dictated by content, and often his work is produced for the particular context in which it is to be shown. With an elegant sophistication, Haacke packages his message by mimicking the “appearance of [his] opponent.” Because of his outspokenness both in his art and in his writings, Haacke’s work is rarely seen in U. S. museums, although he exhibits extensively in Europe. This interview was conducted at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where Haacke was a guest lecturer, in May 1985. C O N N I E S A M A R A S    Sponsorship or Censorship   177 NAE—In 1970, the Guggenheim Museum invited you to give an exhibition of your work. Six weeks before the opening in 1971, the director of the Guggenheim, Thomas Messer, canceled your show. He felt that the work you had proposed, analyzing the ownership of slum properties in Harlem and the Lower East Side, was libelous to the museum, despite the fact that you culled all the information from public records.1 Haacke—The legal argument, which is not backed by experts in the field, served as a smokescreen for an ideological determination that the pieces were “inappropriate” for showing in a museum. According to Messer, museums should exhibit only those works that are “selfsufficient ” and lack what he called an “ulterior motive.” If he were to take this doctrine seriously, he would have a hard time filling his museum. Messer saw himself as the bright knight who warded off an “alien substance” from invading the citadel of art. NAE—Then they wouldn’t have offered you a show at that time had your work dealt entirely with social systems? Haacke—No doubt. However, I believe Messer hoped for some sort of tame “ecological” show (I had been working with water, air, animals, and plants in the second half of the ’60s). He probably thought of a romantic evocation of green grass and chirping birds. NAE—It’s commonly thought that the reason the Guggenheim canceled your show was that there are slum landlords on the board of trustees. Haacke—No. As far as I know, there is no link between the board and the two real estate groups 1 looked at.2 I find it quite remarkable, though, that people are ready to suspect the museum board members of having a connection with slum properties. It means that one expects all sorts of dirty things from trustees. NAE—Have you had an individual exhibition in a major American museum since? Haacke—No. NAE—But you have had a number of one-person shows in Europe? Haacke—In Europe, yes . . . in museums in Germany, Holland, Belgium, England, Switzerland. 178   T h e E s s e n t i a l N ew A rt E xaminer NAE—You grew up in Germany when Hitler was in power. Your parents refused to join the Nazi Party. Does your background have a direct bearing on your work? Haacke—Not directly; perhaps at a more removed level. If you grew up in Germany after the Second World War, even though you were not implicated in the atrocities and the repression of the Nazi period, it does haunt you. We carry this mortgage. Many people in my generation feel they have a responsibility to make sure that things like that will not happen again. In that sense, maybe, the history of the country where I was born has a bearing on the direction of my work. NAE—Have you ever had legal action taken against you? Haacke—There have been attempts which, I believe, were intended to intimidate me through legal arguments. The Mobil Oil Corporation has tried to interfere with...


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