Unveiling: Hans Haacke Gift Horse Replaces Blue Cockerel On Fourth Plinth


A bronze and electroluminescent film horse by the German/US artist Hans Haacke is set to be unveiled in Trafalgar Square on Thursday morning 5 March by Mayor Boris Johnson.

Instead of the statue of William IV astride a horse, as originally planned for the empty plinth, Hans Haacke proposes a skeleton of a riderless, strutting horse. Tied to the horse’s front leg is an electronic ribbon which displays live the ticker of the London Stock Exchange, completing the link between power, money and history. The horse is derived from an etching by George Stubbs, whose studies of equine anatomy were published the year after the birth of the reputedly decadent king, whose statue was abandoned due to a lack of funds. Haacke’s proposal makes visible a number of ordinarily hidden substructures, tied up with a bow as if a gift to all.

Haacke’s early work employed physical and organic processes, such as condensation, in what he called ‘systems’, until his focus shifted to the socio-political field of equally interdependent dynamics. For the last four decades Haacke has been examining relationships between art, power and money, and has addressed issues of free expression and civic responsibilities in democratic societies. Haacke’s practice is difficult to categorise, moving from object to image to text, from painting to photography, at times of a provocative nature.

During the weekend of the unveiling, Haacke will be speaking at a symposium about his work, held on 7 March at London’s ICA. The artist has already stated, “What happens if the invisible hand of the market ties the knot for us?” In the past, his work has subjectively attacked New York’s slum landlords, German industrial pollution, the Mobil oil company, Margaret Thatcher, Charles Saatchi and Ronald Regan. In 1971, the Guggenheim Museum cancelled a Haacke solo exhibition which eluded to examine the financial arrangements of the museum’s trustees. Gift Horse looks pretty tame on the surface but has depth in its references. The sculpture utilises a live financial feed to the city. It may be a play on the expression ‘flogging a dead horse.’

Hans Haacke was born 1936 in Cologne. He is German painter and conceptual artist, active in the USA. Haacke studied at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Kassel from 1956 to 1960, and during this period he painted pictures in a style close to Tachism, working on the visualisation of movement. He also worked on examinations of colour fields. With his mirrorworks of 1961, Mirror Relief (1961; artist’s col.) and the Battle of Reichenfels (1961; Paris, Bernard Aubertin priv. col.), Haacke freed himself from the object, and the water-containers done after 1962 are determined by technical factors, only formally recalling minimal art.

In the second half of the 1960s Haacke added new components to his physical systems in real time. Biological phenomena became ‘unassisted ready-mades’. But unlike Duchamp’s ready-mades, which lose their original function, Haacke’s works were isolated phenomena which, although signed by the artist as works of art, still showed the real phenomenon in real time. In his political works after the late 1960s, Haacke transferred the principle of the real-time system to the analysis and exposure of social structures.

In his work Haacke touched on taboos in the social system, using his art to aim for the nerve-centre of the establishment. He cannot be bracketed in any artistic trend; his works from the 1960s consist, in a conceptual way, of text and photograph, while towards the end of the 1970s he painted large pictures, as did many contemporaries.

Watch this space for first hand reporting on the Fourth Plinth project


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