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Hans Haacke, Seurat's 'Les Poseuses' (small version)

Video transcript
(jazz music) Voiceover: We've been talking about whether or not the art is contained in the object or the art is contained in the things that surround it. What's really interesting is that in the late 20th century, artists started to make art that was explicitly about the way that society frames a work of art. One of the great examples of that is by Hans Haacke from 1975, a work of art which takes a small painting by the famous neoimpressionist painter George Seurat. Everybody knows his painting The Isle of the Grande Jatte, but what Haacke did is he centered his work of art on a small sketch by Seurat and this work of art had gone from the artist's studio through many, many hands until it ended up partially owned by an investment firm and actually put in a bank vault. He frames a series of pieces of paper that says who the owner is. Each framed object on the wall shows the history of the collecting of this painting. It went from being this object in the artist's studio to something that was now in a bank vault, whose price had increased dramatically from something that had no price associated with it when it was first produced as simply a sketch to something that was worth in excess of a million dollars by 1975. Voiceover: This is the sketch that we're looking at, right? Is that this sketch? This looks like a painting. Voiceover: Well, yeah, the sketch itself is actually a painting. It's the small version in full color of the painting itself. Voiceover: Okay, so you're saying a sketch is just a small - Voiceover: Exactly, it's a model for the large scale. Voiceover: And this was done by Seurat. Voiceover: Exactly. Voiceover: And Haacke, in his piece of art, or installation, whatever we call it, he took the original piece of art (crosstalk) it was literally a photocopy. Voiceover: He didn't have access to the original, because the original was now in a bank vault. I think that was part of his issue, that now this was something that was out of circulation that had become an investment, as opposed to a work of art that existed in the world. Voiceover: This is interesting. This is something that ... I guess it is ... I struggle a little bit, because at minimum, I'm willing to say that this is definitely interesting. I think it's interesting to just even have that ... It feels like something we would do at Khan Academy, in terms of just look at this piece of art and look at who's owned it. Isn't this something to think about? Voiceover: It's almost a graph of its financial value. Voiceover: Exactly, and the reason why, going back to the art, not art, or traditional notions of art, and modern notions of art, this is definitely a very modern notion of art. It's not a 500 years ago. Voiceover: In fact, the original work of art is absent. Voiceover: Yes, what I actually really like about it and I feel is, to some degree, almost more consistent than a lot of what we've looked at, is that he did not feel the need to do it on oil and canvas, that he felt that, "Look, that's not a ... I do like the fact that he just said, "Well, look, if we're just going to go really pushing the envelope, "why am I stuck to this mixing paint and all the rest?" That general idea is actually a very good idea. You almost hope that you could have a whole museum of that, of people documenting what these pieces of artwork are, where they've been, all these things that are no longer accessible to the public, and where are they, what's their history. I think that'd be a fascinating thing. Voiceover: But also, it really documents the way the object's meaning has changed. It's not just through the financial value that's at issue, but it's also the way in which it began as something that was intimate and that was really a stepping stone towards another major finished painting and then becomes almost a simple monetary instrument. Is something gained, is something lost? Voiceover: It goes from beings something personal to the artist to being a commodity. Voiceover: That's what everyone, to some degree, cares about. That's their fascination. What is this worth, what is someone willing to pay for it? I'm conflicted, because I've asked those same questions when I see that, I've asked you all those same questions. What is this worth? What's the history of it? I really like the idea of Haacke did. It's both a little sad. It is taking art and a lot of this art is a very personal thing. It's really just pointing out irony or hypocrisy or something, but at the same time, I actually think it's almost really healthy. Maybe every piece of artwork should have that, where you see it, you actually see where it's been. Voiceover: It's interesting that it's an artist doing it, as opposed to an institution. It's not a museum or a curatorial perspective, but it's actually seen as the more subjective, radical positioning of an artist. Voiceover: Yeah, and that's interesting. Because it's a one-off piece, it looks like a ... I know this was the intention of this work of art, but it does fall into curation and a really good curation idea. For me it (unintelligible) ... It's just an interesting curation idea or provocative idea. Can that be considered art? Voiceover: In fact, there's an entire movement that developed from the 1960s through the 70s and 80s, up to the present, which is known as institutional critique, where artists have used art to point out some of the politically more sensitive issues that surround the exhibition of art. There is this interesting antagonistic relationship that can exist. Voiceover: This is really art as a tool for social commentary, which I guess, is what it always was. (laughing) I said that at the same (unintelligible) This is so different than, you know, but I was like, "Maybe not." Voiceover: A lot of the discussion that we've had talks about the complex relationship between the market, between institutions, and between art and artists. This institutional critique really puts the spotlight on that. Voiceover: But it doesn't seem to be a good strategy overall. I actually really appreciate it that he's doing that. It's very honest and not hypocritical. Voiceover: What does it mean even when the market has absorbed the avant-garde to try to remain outside it? Voiceover: What do you think the lesson has been learned from the art market? Voiceover: Now, artists are specifically invited to museums to do a kind of institutional critique. Voiceover: (laughing) Really? Voiceover: Yeah, because now we actually know that there's real value. There's market value in it, there's other kinds of value in it and so there's an inviting of artists into the space of a museum to do that kind of - Voiceover: But then it kind of cheapens it in a strange way. How do the benefactors or the sponsors view this? Voiceover: That's a really interesting question. I'm not sure that all corporate entities are open to that, but I think that the ones that are take an enlightened position that actually, I think, is seen in a very positive way. (jazz music)