Okwui Enwezor on the origins of Haacke’s pavilion

The Haus der Kunst director ponders the issue of conflicted history with reference to his own Munich museum

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Since we hosted a discussion surrounding Defining Contemporary Art at MoMA in New York recently, we’ve brought you videos that have included Bob Nickas calling the re-performances of Marina Abromavic, “ventriloquism”, and Hans Ulrich Obrist paying tribute to David Weiss of Fischi/Weiss. Last week, we presented a video of Massimiliano Gioni praising Boetti’s Maps, and today, we bring you a video of Okwui Enwezor, director of Haus der Kunst in Germany on the significance of Hans Haacke’s Germania (1993).

After seizing power in 1933, Adolf Hitler's first trip abroad was to meet Benito Mussolini in Venice, and to visit the German Pavilion of the Biennale. He instructed a redesign, which was completed in 1938, that saw parquet floor replaced by marble slabs, and on a hook above the entrance, the Nazi version of the German eagle was installed, with a wreath surrounding the swastika. For the 1993 Venice Biennale, artist Hans Haacke uprooted the carefully laid marbled floors and smashed them into pieces. The title of the work, Germania, which appears on the pavilion’s façade is not only Italian for Germany but was also the name Hitler had envisioned for Berlin after his expected victory in the Second World War.

Okwui Enwezor

Okwui Enwezor

“Haacke’s project was really the first time that an artist had taken the national pavilion as a subject of inquiry,” says Enwezor. “Rather than just a space into which things are placed, it became a space that was contested. The German pavilion and its history and its its reconstruction in 1938 by the Nazis became the instrument, if you will, for this inquiry into this instability of the space of the nation.” 


As director of Haus der Kunst in Germany, which is marking its 75th anniversary this year, Enwezor is addressing the museum’s conflicted history. Enwezor and the museum's curators are organising displays of archival materials that relate to its origins as a Nazi showcase for German nationalism. One of the primary reasons he chose to talk about the work by Haacke was to demonstrate one approach to an institution's troubled history, in this case, by literally destroying its foundations.

Enwezor's most recent project is the Paris Triennale, 'Intense Proximity', which is on view until 26 August. The Phaidon Hans Haacke book is an in-depth analysis of the vanguard artist's politically trailblazing art.


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