New York

Hans Haacke

Wise Gallery

Hans Haacke’s show at Howard Wise insists very earnestly that it is real. First we have Haacke’s word for it. “In all cases,” he writes about his work (which he thinks of as “physical, biological, and social systems”) “verifiable processes are referred to.” More important, the work itself is insistent about the issue, notably in its noises. Pumps hum, vacuum tubes click, and a UPI teletype chugs out stock information. The effect, when coupled with various prominent motors belligerently unsheathed, is of a kind of brutal chorus extolling the virtue, in art, of contemporary technological literalism.

Haacke is a new naturalist. The emphasis on systems is the current ideological vocabulary for an impulse at least as old as Zola and Dreiser and no less pedestrian. It claims the best art is life itself, raw, undigested, uncorrupted by “artificial” ideas. The new naturalism, like Zola’s, really distrusts art as something inherently deceitful. Its advocates claim they want to extend art’s mantle indefinitely, to expand it to include all life. Though this sounds like art’s apotheosis, it would in fact be its destruction. For art so extended would presumably be in the hands of its champions, the naturalists themselves, for whom the best art is a slice of physical, biological or social life, pure and true, i.e., not art at all.

Wilde once regretted the case of a young man “with a natural gift for exaggeration” who fell into “careless habits of accuracy” and developed “the morbid and unhealthy faculty of truth-telling.” He wasn’t only kidding. Many a naturalist might profit from that young man’s deplorable example.

Jean-Louis Bourgeois