February 23, 2009

Hans Haacke at REDCAT

Fritz Winter's Große Komposition vor Blau 1953
Hans Haacke, along with Stephanie Barron, and Norman Klein spoke at REDCAT. Klein referred to Haacke's portait of Ronald Reagan (on view at LACMA's Two Germanys) as, "The face that was the architect of the economic plan that just collapsed." The opposing photograph of demonstrators was the largest political demonstration in Germany since the Nuremberg Rallies. Not organized by the government, the protest was in response to Reagan's visit to the Bundestag in Bonn, making the case for placing U.S. nuclear missiles in West Germany. 

Earlier in the day Barron--co-curator or The Art of Two Germanys--toured the exhibition at LACMA with Haacke. It was in the first room, standing in front of an abstract canvas by Fritz Winter that Barron learned the Winter was Haacke's instructor in Kassel.

Hans Haacke's Germania 1993 German Pavilion, Venice Biennale
Haacke spoke of Hans Sedlmayr, an Austrian-born art historian (Nazi party member and later, an advisor to the Vatican) who saw abstract art as an attack on middle  class values. The social idealism under the Third Reich (and later the social realism in the GDR) was responded to by home-grown abstract artists showing at Documenta (in 1955) as well as NY AbEx painters whose shipping costs were subsidized by the CIA. In this context, abstract art was more than an academic argument, "It meant something," said Haacke. As abstract art lost its political luster, Haacke moved on to other media. 

For the 1993 Venice Biennale, Klaus Bußmann was asked by the Foreign Office--which controls the German pavilion--to curate work representing the newly united Germany. So bothered by the demand, he included Haacke-who lives in New York, and Korean-born Nam June Paik--who was teaching in Germany at the time. Haacke tore up the floor of Hitler's remodel of the pavilion. He said visitors to the installation picked up tiles and hurled them to the floor, breaking them even more, taking out their grief and anger on what transpired under the Nazis. 

Édouard Manet's Execution of Emperor Maximilian 1869
Earlier in the evening Klein read off Tom Coburn's ammendment to the economic stimulus plan which stated in part:
"None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project, including renovation, remodeling, construction, salaries, furniture, zero-gravity chairs, big screen televisions, beautification, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas."
Klein noted the equivalency created between places like LACMA and "rotating pastel lights." 

Time Magazine's Richard Lacayo noted part of the debate on the House floor:
"The low point was probably the remark by House Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia that it was wrong to spend money on the National Endowment for the Arts when in his state "we have real people out of work" — the implication being of course that people who build theater sets, or play in orchestras or work in museums aren't "real" workers."
It would appear that even despite the best intentions of artists who attempt to set themselves above the politcal fracas, or debate the 'legitimacy' of political art, all art is political.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo's Striking Worker Murdered, 1934 at The Getty
"...in a society at war with itself, or under extreme transition, the production of any art at all cannot escape becoming political and politicized…"
I would add that Iraq is at war with more that itself; it is also at war with the United States, another country undergoing extreme transition. That would mean that art made in the United States cannot excape the political.

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  1. Sam Durant, quoting Adrian Piper: "All art is political, whether implicitly or explicitly." Everybody's on the side of something; nothing's neutral.

    I tend to use this as guidepost when seeing art in galleries these days in a time when we've both torn other countries and our own is torn. Mostly what I see is rose-colored conservatism.

  2. I am so grateful that this lecture was blogged. Did anyone video the lecture? Would love to see/hear the actual exchange. Thanks....!!

  3. I didn't see a camera set up, which is the usual practice for the visiting artist lectures on campus.


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