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Johanna Fateman: "Hans Haacke"

Decades before the term “artwashing” was coined to describe cultural philanthropy’s role in corporate P.R. campaigns, this German-born, New York-based Conceptualist was exposing the hidden dynamics of patronage. This focussed presentation of Haacke’s work is titled for his piece “Taking Stock, 1975-1985,” in which a gilt-framed oil portrait of Margaret Thatcher represents more than a symbol of empire and austerity—it reveals the political influence of the advertising mogul and art collector Charles Saatchi, whose firm helmed Thatcher’s campaigns. Another piece, from 1975, is a forensic examination of the provenance of Georges Seurat’s painting “Les Poseuses (Small Version).” In fourteen panels of text, Haacke traces the canvas’s journey from Seurat’s studio, in 1888, to a million-dollar auction bid, in 1970, by an investment holding company, and beyond. In another work from 1975, titled “On Social Grease,” six plaques are photo-engraved with quotes from corporate bigwigs, including an Exxon executive who notes that art serves as a business-friendly “social lubricant.” But the artist’s once radical strategy doesn’t hit quite as hard now, as climate activists make a splash in museums with their guerrilla actions.
– Johanna Fateman