Hans Haacke: Beyond Systems Aesthetics Open Access

Tyson, John Alistair (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9p2909549?locale=en


This dissertation expands the purview of scholarship on the work of the conceptual artist Hans Haacke. Well known for his commitment to politics and social justice, Haacke is one of the pioneers of institutional critique (a subcategory of conceptualism that attempts to illuminate the ways that art institutions affect the value and meanings of the objects they contain). Haacke's long artistic trajectory is typically viewed through a narrow scope. Artworks created before 1969 and after c.1975 generally receive limited attention. Rejecting previous narratives of a complete break in Haacke's oeuvre in 1969 with his initial pieces incorporating text, I explore continuities between the artist's earlier and later works. I argue that much of Haacke's art reflects a "systems esthetic," a concept developed by the critic Jack Burnham. In systemic works, the artist locates objects, spectators and institutions within interconnected circuits. Moreover, I develop new interpretative approaches uniting Haacke's oeuvre in other ways. Drawing upon the ideas of J. Hillis Miller, I describe his work as both pedagogic and "parasitic" (antagonistic and nourished by host institutions). Furthermore, I examine how the artist's projects activate audiences, often provoking them to become performers. Haacke's projects typically reprogram art institutions. By transmitting more information about their workings, prompting a shift in modes access, and enabling more active visitor participation, his artworks make art galleries and museums more democratic. The first chapter considers Haacke's early participatory works. I focus on the radical potential of adult play in the sixties and seventies, historically contextualizing his ludic artworks. The second chapter is dedicated to the analysis of the kinetic-light installation Photoelectric Viewer-Programmed Coordinate System (1966-68). I consider the work's relationship to a wide range of inter-media practices and developing notions of "theater." Showing Haacke's oeuvre in a new light, the third chapter, "Performing Conceptual Art," explores the way that apparently strictly conceptual art projects can possess bodily materiality and relate to developments in performance. In the final chapter, I analyze the effects of censorship and role of mechanical reproduction and writing in Haacke's oeuvre.

Table of Contents


Hans Haacke: Beyond Systems Aesthetics 1

Chapter One

"Ludic Idiocy"?: Playing to Reprogram the Art Institution 51

Chapter Two

Technology that will not "Get with the Program": Inter-Media Performance and an Art of Democratic Process 115

Chapter Three

Performing Conceptual Art: Denaturalizing the Fondation Maeght and Banff Centre 197

Chapter Four

The Context as Host: Hans Haacke's Art of Textual Exhibition 259


Reprogramming the Future 321

Bibliography 360

Figures 364

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