PRINT Summer 1973

Hans Haacke’s Gallery Visitors' Profile

Hans Haacke

DURING AN EXHIBITION OF WORKS by Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, Nancy Holt, Laurie James, Brenda Miller, and Mary Obering, October 7–24, 1972, the visitors of the John Weber Gallery were requested by me to complete a questionnaire with 20 questions. Ten of these questions inquired about their demographic background and ten questions related to the visitors’ opinions on sociopolitical issues. They were either multiple choice questions or had to be answered by writing in a figure or a word. The questionnaires were provided, with pencils, in two file trays on either end of a long table in the gallery. The completed forms were to be dropped into a wooden box with a slit in the top. Throughout the exhibition intermediate results of the survey were posted on the nearby wall.

During the time of the polling, the other galleries sharing the same address with the John Weber Gallery at 420 West Broadway, in New York’s Soho district, had the following exhibitions: “New works by Artists” (Judd, Morris, Nauman, Rauschenberg, Serra, Stella) at the Castelli Gallery; Jannis Kounellis at the Sonnabend Gallery; and Sylvia Stone at the Emmerich Gallery. The public of one of these galleries usually also visits the other exhibitions in the building.

858 questionnaires were completed during the 13 days of the exhibition. Since the total number of visitors is unknown, the ratio of participation cannot be ascertained. It is open to speculation whether nonparticipating visitors differed essentially in their demographic backgrounds and opinions. The results of the survey are only a representation of the 858 who have completed the questionnaire. For these however, it is a full representation, a profile not based on samplings. It cannot claim to give a picture of all the visitors of the John Weber Gallery, of the public of other galleries, or the art public at large.

In the tabulation, all blanks and answers not con-forming to the multiple choice of answers offered in the questionnaire, were counted as “no answer.” Except for the two questions that allowed for more than one answer, all multiple answers to a single question were equally counted as “no answer.” The figures were translated into per cent with decimals rounded to the nearest full number. Approximately 1.5% of the 858 questionnaires contained one or more answers that were not to be taken seriously, however, these were not eliminated in the computation.

The pie chart shows the proportional breakdown of the total visitors polled into four constituent subgroups. It adds up to 100 per cent. The bar graphs visualize the proportional distribution of answers given by the total visitors polled (black bar) and compare it with the relations within each of the four subgroups: the visitors with no professional interest in art (cross-hatched bar); visitors with a professional interest in art but ’not artists or students (dotted bar); visitors declaring themselves artists (grid bar); and students with a professional interest in art (white bar). Thus each answer-block of five bars allows the reader to recognize how the subgroups’ characteristics resemble or differ from each other and how each one compares with the response of the total visitors polled. Focusing on any one of the groups by following the bar representing it in each of the answer-blocks, one can see how all answers are distributed proportionally within that group. One hundred per cent always represents the sum of all bars of the same color (all answers given by one group).

Bruce Boice

Hans Haacke’s survey, and his recent work in general, obviously has to do with politics, but the relation is not easily defined. In a sense, Haacke presents situations to which others can and do respond politically. The overreaction of the Guggenheim Museum to Haacke’s work a few years ago is an obvious example of a situation bringing a political response; the act of completing one of Haacke’s questionnaires is more ambiguous in terms of political response. The question becomes: What counts as a political response? Completing a questionnaire involves thinking about political issues, but is not necessarily a political response. In the context of a classroom, completing a questionnaire, a test, is not generally considered acting politically, even when the questions are about politics. The teacher asking the questions is similarly not considered to be acting politically. here the question becomes: Is asking or answering questions about politics more political than asking questions about science? Within a different sense of “politics,” all art is political and all acts are political.

But within this sense of “political,” the meaning of the term becomes blurred. In these terms, there is no reason to single out one actor artwork as being more political than another. However, we can identify certain questions as being about politics and distinguish them from questions about science, art, philosophy, etc. The problem is that this ability to distinguish questions about politics from questions about science does not carryover into an ability to distinguish political acts from nonpolitical acts, assuming nonpolitical acts were possible.

While half the questions on Haacke’s questionnaires are about politics, the questionnaires are not so much about politics as about the people who fill them out. In these terms, Haacke’s survey is completely tautological, and as such, presents a closed, self-contained system, but not one that has any thing to do with political systems. The possible meanings of the results of the survey, as Haacke has asserted, are restricted to meanings about the specific persons who completed the questionnaire at the Weber Gallery. Thus, Haacke’s survey is in direct contrast to the national polling organizations which generalize from a sample set of particulars on the assumption of the typicality of the particulars chosen. Harris and Gallup operate on induction, whereas all of Haacke’s conclusions are the product of deduction. Deduction is always tautological. The most interesting tautology in the work is not in the questionnaire itself or in the method of obtaining conclusions, but in the circumstances of the presentation of the questionnaire and its results. As the questionnaires could be completed only in the Weber Gallery, and the results (complete results) can only be obtained when Haacke shows them at the same gallery, it can be assumed that the group of people who completed the questionnaire will form the same general group that views the results. Thus, most people viewing the results at the Weber Gallery will feel the security of holding majority opinions because those majority opinions were formed by that very group of “most people.” The majority of people viewing the results will feel good about them. Such a tautological structure, in this case, amounts almost to an automatic reinforcement. But while self-congratulation is one possible product of the survey conclusions, so is the reinforcement of the notion of the alienation of the art community from the rest of society. The poll demonstrates the homogeneity of the group, but the contrast between the results of the poll and the political realities outside the tautology shows the contrast between the group completing the questionnaire and the generalized political thought of the rest of the nation. It is impossible, for example, not to notice the conflict between the whopping 79% of the artists’ vote for McGovern and the harsh reality of “four more years.” The poll, in effect, signals the similarity within the group polled and the dissimilarity of the group within the whole of society. The results of the survey at Weber also demonstrate the similarity of that group of 858 persons and other groups that have completed similar questionnaires in other galleries and museums here and abroad.

Haacke’s move toward presenting the results in the form of graphs rather than statistics seems more a move toward making the information more accessible and less wearing, than one toward the visual. The information in the graphs can be grasped by recognizing distinct patterns; extensive reading in the gallery situation is avoided. Though the decision is irrelevant to the work, it is an interesting one because it shows that Haacke is more concerned with getting the information across than with simply presenting it, as if out of an obligation to the completion of the work and an indifference to whether or not anyone attends to it. The results in graph form contain lots of surprises. To notice the kinds of groupings Haacke makes from the questionnaires, is to be aware of the enormous range of further possible groupings and subgroupings implicit in the information. If 74% of artists completing the questionnaire supported McGovern, how many female artists of Polish origin, over 30, and against busing, supported McGovern? The possible new groups and subgroups that could be formed from these results are not infinite, but they seem to be infinite.

Hans Haacke and Bruce Boice