Hans Haacke is a conceptual artist whose work aims to reveal and critique social and political systems, ranging in subject from the natural environment to the art world itself. His Condensation Cube (1963), a Plexiglas box that responded to pressure changes within the gallery, invited viewers to consider the physical space of the gallery as a metaphor for the invisible processes that maintain society. Later, in the early 1970s, Haacke embraced the sparse, informational aesthetic of conceptualism in order to focus on what he called “real-time systems.” Such works often sought to address the rampant greed and immorality of America’s political and financial upper classes.
Since 1969, Haacke has turned to questionnaires and polls as a signature mode of institutional critique. Visitors to exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1971), Documenta 5, Kassel (1971), the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld (1972), and Frankfurter Kunstverein (1976), Germany, and other international venues were given surveys that logged demographic information and political leanings. These polls compiled opinions on issues ranging from the legalization of drugs and the integration of public schools to American foreign policy. The results were compiled and later displayed in a series of graphs, charts, and maps. In 1970, for example, Haacke turned a critical eye on the Museum of Modern Art, asking visitors to an exhibition whether the neutrality of presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller toward US policy in Indochina would affect their vote for him later that year. By extension, Haacke implicated the Museum of Modern Art itself, because Governor Rockefeller was a high-profile donor and MoMA board member.
The 2015 Biennale di Venezia presents an anthology of Haacke’s polls, along with his installation Blue Sail (1965), which features an oscillating fan that blows against a ten-foot veil of blue chiffon held in place with fishing weights and thread. While offering a poetic formal statement, this piece also speaks to the limits of individualism within a system of constant economic and political micromanagement and calls for a conscious and transparent engagement with society. Finally, the 2015 Biennale is premiering Haacke’s first “World Poll,” devised specifically for this exhibition.