Margaret Ewing

Hans Haacke, Germany, and the Public Sphere

Beginning with a provocative 1974 investigation into the provenance of Manet’s Bunch of Asparagus still life, which uncovered the former Nazi ties of a Cologne museum’s prominent board member, Hans Haacke (b. 1936, Cologne) has been critically engaged with the legacy of the Holocaust in Germany for decades. In project after project, Haacke has demonstrated a keen ability to target residual traces of this history, and to reveal the ways in which it remains unresolved. Immediately following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, Haacke began a sustained examination of German public space, commanding attention to the past as East and West Germany struggled to find a path to reunification. This artist’s work has been pivotal in the negotiation of Germany’s post-Holocaust history both artistically and in the broader society, and is significant for the ways in which it explores questions of public space, collective memory, and political participation. Haacke’s sharp engagement with heated political concerns and provocative address of the viewer advanced a model of socially engaged art that was purposely entangled with questions of how German history would be assimilated into a reunified national narrative.

My study of Haacke’s work in and about Germany is grounded in the history of the decade following 1989 and in an exploration of the conflicting interests during this period of great transition. Haacke’s work raised questions about the use and control of public space: the urban environment, the international art exhibition (both within Germany and abroad), and the national art collection of the reunified German parliament. While German history and memory have been explored at length in multiple fields, I seek to understand how these questions were interrogated spatially within Haacke’s oeuvre. As projects inserted into public spaces, Haacke’s installations placed demands on viewers, asking them to engage with sensitive socio-political histories, and, in the process bringing to light competing claims to public space, history, memory, and identity.

(Excerpt from Margaret's proposal)