This ATLAS Critical Object Study focuses on a single piece of archival ephemera related to the 1986 solo exhibition “Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business.” In conjunction with this exhibition, Haacke published an “artvertorial” piece in the page of the finance and lifestye magazine Manhattan, Inc. This object study dissects the complex iconography at play in both the visual language and context of the piece to demonstrate how Haacke connects the nodes of advertising, international geopolitics, business, and arts institutions of the 1980s.
Uncovered during research for the New Museum’s 2019 Hans Haacke retrospective, this torn-out magazine page exemplifies exactly the kind of parasitic framing that Haacke continued to engage with throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. This piece ran as an advertisement in the now-defunct finance and lifestyle magazine Manhattan Inc. in the winter of 1986-87, timed to coincide with Haacke’s first New Museum exhibition. By mimicking the visual qualities and forms of engagement typical of advertising at the time, Haacke leans into the charges of alien invasion once leveled against him by Messer, letting his art slip comfortably into the skin of advertising. With the glossy paper, large font, and use of questions that engage the reader/consumer directly yet informally, Haacke’s “artvertorial,” as he termed it, clearly draws from what was at the time extremely familiar visual language for luxury goods and buzzy technology brands like Rolex, BMW, Apple, and IBM.
Unlike the Pop art of Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Roy Lichtenstein, which borrowed the languages of advertising and mass media only to resituate them back in oil paint on the gallery wall, a crucial component of Haacke’s work here is the maintenance of context for this particular encounter between reader and advertisement. As art historian John A. Tyson argues, “Almost any reproduction of Haacke’s information-laden artwork can function ‘parasitically’ when situated inside other texts.” 3 Just as the presentation of poll results or other demographic information about exhibition visitors functions in the most impactful way when shown inside the institution, the significance of Haacke’s text-based artvertorial works hinges on their context. The work’s appearance in the pages of Manhattan Inc., a publication that came to typify the particular culture of wealth and social ambition in 1980s New York City, is just as critical as the information it conveys.
The piece itself poses eight questions, beginning with “Who Does What in South Africa?” and continuing on to ask:
Who Does What in South Africa? hones in on a Saatchi & Saatchi affiliate enterprise that was of major concern for Haacke in the 1980s: the business of propping up racist policies in apartheid South Africa. As Haacke commented in 1984, following his own Tate exhibition, “The Saatchi’s South African subsidiary took it upon itself to run the promotion of the constitutional change that was presented in a referendum to the white voters by the South African government’s National Party. Foes of apartheid think that this change, in effect, cemented the system which reserves political power in South African exclusively for the white minority, which constitutes sixteen percent of the population.” 7 Haacke’s 1986 artvertorial makes explicit reference to the Saatchi & Saatchi affiliate’s public relations and advertising work for both the Bantustan party and the policies of the Botha government—two names that signaled pro-apartheid policy in the 1980s. Further references in the list of questions to Saatchi & Saatchi’s public relations work for the government-owned steel industry, tourism efforts, and commerce departments point directly at how global conglomerates worked on local levels to prop up the racist politics of South Africa’s white minority government by countering sanctions and attempting to boost the economy through tourism and other soft-power methods.
Most of these complex, multilayered relationships would be completely opaque to the general gallery visitor or museumgoer. Haacke aims to frame these relationships out in the open—either very simply, as with the seemingly objective demographic information of his polls or gallerygoer surveys, or with slightly more wryness, as is the case with the iconographic puzzle of the artvertorial or Taking Stock (Unfinished) (1983–84), a gilt-framed portrait of Margaret Thatcher that premiered at Haacke’s own Tate exhibition in 1984. Taking Stock (Unfinished) sets Thatcher’s likeness in a library setting that overflows with allegorical references to Saatchi & Saatchi, who were infamously involved in the branding and messaging of her election campaign in 1979. With the form and context of Who Does What in South Africa?, however, Haacke goes one step further, self-reflexively referencing the messaging and modes of advertising—Saatchi & Saatchi’s bread-and-butter industry)—and taking his most “parasitic” form of engagement off of the walls of the museum and into the wider world.
Maggie Mustard, Ph.D.
Marcia Tucker Senior Research Fellow, New Museum
Published November 13, 2019