Hans Haacke Recounts Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Remarks on His Art: ‘People Were Rolling Their Eyes’

Hans Haacke's 'Gift Horse'

Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse (2014) in London.


On Thursday, October 24, the New Museum in New York will open a hotly anticipated retrospective for artist Hans Haacke, who has devoted his career to piquant critiques of how the art world—and the world at large—operates. I can’t wait. Until then, I am getting by with the show’s catalogue, which includes a wide-ranging interview with Haacke by the show’s curators, Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari. Unsurprisingly, the artist pulls no punches.

At one point, Carrion-Murayari asks about the moment in 2014 when U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (mayor of London at the time) unveiled Haacke’s Gift Horse as a Fourth Plinth commission for Trafalgar Square. About that work, a skeleton of a horse with a bow on its front leg that displays a digital readout of stock market prices, Johnson offered the following remarks: “There will be those who say that this undeniably underfed beast … is a symbol of the excessive pursuit of austerity. … But I say absolutely not.” Instead, he proposed that, in the animal’s bones, “you will see symbolized the vital infrastructure—the tube that must run beneath the surface of any great and beautiful city. The tubular structures that have received such fantastic investment thanks to our chancellor.”

Haacke recalls the scene in the catalogue: “People were rolling their eyes. I was standing behind him when he was spouting these lines and took a close-up photograph of his hair. The Brexiteer’s hair matches that of Donald Trump.”

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