Midterm: Hans Haacke, “Condensation Cube” (1963-65)

In Condensation Cube, (1963-1965) conceptual artist Hans Haacke drew from the fields of biology, ecology, and cybernetics, visualizing the cyclical process of condensation and evaporation over time by presenting this “real-time process,” in a contained plexiglass cube to be observed in the art museum (Hastings 4). The 30x30x30 centimeter cube composed of plexiglass, is filled with a small amount of water in order to induce condensation to occur within the box. As time passes and different environmental conditions including light, temperature, and humidity levels occur in the gallery, the water begins to shift from liquid to vapor, forming drops on the interior walls of the cube. Hour by hour, the drops grow and merge, slowly taking on new forms. This sculpture functions as a simulacra, exuding Haacke’s commentary on art, institutions of art, and the inter-connectedness of sciences, sociology, and the arts through the visual confinements of the box, the gallery space, and their respective interactions with museum-goers. Secondly, this work also functions as a visual presentation that advocates the interconnectedness between the arts and the sciences as the animated sculpture mimics the organic processes of condensation, changing in aesthetic appearance as the environment in which it is placed does and functioning like a living organism.

Because the sculpture is dependent on its environment, the appearance is constantly changing as it reacts to temperature and light. In this way, the work is comparable to a living, changing organism with biological functionality. The interactive and kinetic features that this work embodies is also representative of the influence of institutions of art in shaping the public’s perception and understanding of art. For instance, when museum-goers enter a museum, they recognize the veritable center for knowledge on the subject being exhibited. Therefore, prior to even viewing the actual art objects on display, they have already assumed that what they will be viewing is art because it is placed in this particular context and setting, whether the exhibition contains paintings or merely a stack of bricks. However, Haacke’s Institutional Critique of the role of the museum pushes farther than merely commenting on museum-audience context. For Haacke, museums are politically charged spaces that reflect political agendas, social ideals, and culturally-specific standards of taste and judgment, and selective interpretations of history whether they are public or private (Haacke 282). Because museums are trusted as veritable connoisseurs of knowledge, their power and influence is maintained and circulated throughout society. In short, although Haacke acknowledges the role museums play in education, he posits that they are also “propaganda machines,” (Haacke 287). In Condensation Cube, we can understand the manipulation of an organic, ecological process being confined and stifled within a man-made box as a metaphor for the museum stifling culture and forcing biased standards of life through their power and clout as trusted exhibitors of knowledge and cultural capital.

 

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