May 11, 2007

Maria Eichhorn: Pragmatic Aesthetics

Filed under: Readymade — Graham Coulter-Smith @ 7:34 am

Maria Eichhorn, Acquisition of a Plot of Land, Tibusstrasse, Corner of Breul, installation sculpture , Muenster Sculpture Project, 1997.
Maria Eichhorn, Acquisition of a Plot of Land, Tibusstrasse, Corner of Breul, installation sculpture , Muenster Sculpture Project, 1997.

Maria Eichhorn’s contribution to the Münster Sculpture Project 1997 on the topic ‘Sculpture in the Public Domain’ was a piece in which she addresses land ownership in the city of Munster. Eichhorn explores one of the basic require-ments of art in the public space, questioning land ownership in the city. Her contribution to Münster 1997 consisted of purchasing a piece of property in the inner city, and documenting the transference of ownership in the land register (Art Content 1997).

The title of her piece was Acquisition of a plot of land: Tibusstrasse, corner of Breul. The contract of sale was on exhibition in the Landesmuseum Domplatz and the visitor was also directed to the Land Registry Of?ce as well as to the actal plot of land. How do we understand this as a work of sculpture? One’s understanding of such actions may begin with the Duchampian Readymade but the Readymade is informed by a larger strategic formation which is focused on creating interrelationships between art and life. And the result of pursuing this objective has not resulted in an escape from art market but it has resulted in the expansion of the boundaries of what is recognized as art.

Eichhorn’s Munster 97 piece is as minimalist as Duchamp’s Fountain, it consists simply of ground. The question then arises as to the aesthetic interest of the plot of ground, or whether art necessitates aesthetic interest. One can also ask whether aesthetic interest is programmable? I can certainly look at any plot of ground as a work of art, especially after seeing and thinking about Eichhorn’s work. Presumably the purchase was permanent, and the plot of ground will not go away. Even if it it did, the documentation would become the ‘eternal’ work of art and a potential commodity on the art market.

It is also worth noting that the documentation is just as important as the actual plot of ground. One recalls Hans Haacke’s Guggenheim exhibition Shapolsky et al. which has been recorded in art history as an even more radical challenge to the art institition than Fountain. But Eichhorn’s Acquisition of a Plot of Land is not shockart.

The original exhibition of Hans Haacke’s Shapolsky installation which was to be exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum was cancelled by the Director of the Museum because Haacke’s work in correlating physical decay with the ?nancial transactions of members of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. The Director wrote:

We are pursuing aesthetic and educational objectives that are self-suf?cient and without ulterior motives. On these grounds the trustees have established policies that exclude active engagement towards social and political ends. (Messer 1971)

At that time (1971) museums were oversensitive to such art. Today they would simply exhibit it in the knowledge that being a ‘work of art’ it would probably possess insigni?cant political impact. Today one will ?nd works by Haacke in corporate collections. In an interview with Patricia Bickers in March 2001 Haacke noted:

Thanks to a variety of pressures, including decades of institutional critique and other critical approaches to the role of museums in our society, there is now a certain willingness by some to look at the ways they function. After all, there are curators and administrators today who participated in the cultural revolution of the ‘60s and read the same books as we did. Of course, there are limits to how far they are ready to expose themselves in front of the world. Like their predecessors they are dependent on the goodwill of governmental, and now corporate, forces and need to consider the interests of their trustees. But to the more adventurous among them it is not as problematic as it once was to extend an invitation to me. In turn, I do not consider myself automatically as being co-opted when that happens. (Bickers, 2001)

Haacke is not giving the art institutions a clean bill of health but he is suggesting that there are sufficient numbers of those who would appreciate his position for him to accept that he is not being ‘co-opted’. The concept of ‘co-option’ needs clarification. It refers to a situation in which a hegemony assimilates resistance via an apparently liberal acceptance that ultimately dulls the force of opposition (somewhat like passive resistance in reverse).

Another exhibition by Eichhorn at the Kunstverein Salzburg, (10 February–19 April 1998) concerned artists contracts. Eichhorn’s research focused on an artist contract formulated in 1971 by Seth Siegelaub and the attorney Bob Projansky. The contact gives the artist considerable rights including fifteen percent of the capital gain on the value of a work when it is resold the so-called ‘right of succession’ clause. Her research included interviewing other major figures from the Conceptual Art movement Haacke, Daniel Buren and Lawrence Weiner. Eichhorn’s intervention is analytical. In this work she becomes an art researcher.

In another work for Documenta XI (2002) she created a company thereby creating a parallel between the corporate world and the culture industry. Her exhibition consisted solely of the documentation for that incorporation. This work is not necessarily a critique of the culture industry in the sense demanded by Peter Bürger (1984), it is more a statement of fact, turning our attention away from more romantic or idealistic conceptions of art towards concrete real-word concerns.

Does this mean that Eichhorn’s work lacks a poetic dimension? It probably does, but whether this is a problem is a moot point. The closest parallel I can think of is the work of Haacke which has always been focused on real-world issues. But it also occurs to me that Eichhorn’s work can be appreciated by noting that this intense self-critical gaze seems to be an especially attractive aspect of intellectual art. And from an aesthetic point of view one can view Eichhorn’s company as a species of abstraction.

Returning to her Munster 97 piece Rudolf Gosskopff notes a connection between an Oldenburg sculpture consisting of three large balls and Eichhard’s plot of land. The connection is based not only on the geographical proximity of the pieces but also due to the fact that ‘some Munsteraner tried to roll it [the Oldenburg sculpture] into the river’. Gosskopf notes ‘some deny that she [Eichhorn] has anything to do with art’. Of course this is a compliment because it is increasingly dif?cult to provoke this comment. But eighty years after Duchamp’s Fountain whatever it is that the artist can come up with is defined as art due to an institutional frame, in this case the Munster Sculpture Project. Grosskopff makes this very point noting: ‘If art leaves the framework of the museum, church or collection then usually only the conventional has the chance to remain exempted from the anger of the people’. (Sontagblatt 2003). But it is also the case that Grosskopff comments are a little snobbish. It is also entirely possible that deconstructive art might provoke thoughtful responses from the public. On the other hand if he is correct in his assessment then one can question the social value of deconstructive art. Is it sometimes just too obscure and buried in conceptualist discourse to be of any value to the broader public? And without its claim to expanding a questioning art within society where does the social aspect of deconstructive art lie?

Art Content. 1997. ‘Erwerb des Grundstücks Ecke Tibusstraße/Breul, Gemarkung Münster, Flur 5 (1997)’ Art Content an online resource of Kunstforum International, accessed December 2003:

Bickers, P. 2001. Mixed Messages: Hans Haacke interviewed by Patricia Bickers. Art Monthly. London, March, pp. 1-5.

Grosskopff, Rudolf. 1997. ‘Das kann meine Tochter auch…’ Das Sonntagsblatt [Germany], 19 June, no. 25. Online resource accessed November 2003:

Messer, T. 1971. Letter from the director of the Guggenheim Museum (Thomas Messer) to Hans Haacke. H. Haacke. New York.


  1. I’m curious about what the next one will say – I’ll be sure in favor of it.

    Comment by Erwin Lange — October 10, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

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