Activist Artists Hack the New Museum’s Hans Haacke Survey in an Effort to Expose the Museum’s Hidden Capitalist Agenda

Grayson Earle and "M" targeted the artist's 'New Museum Survey.'

Hans Haacke, Gift Horse (2014). Image: Ben Davis.

The long-awaited New Museum retrospective of conceptual art pioneer Hans Haacke fell victim to internet hackers over the weekend trying to make a political point. The intervention drastically skewed the results of an iPad-based artwork that was meant to record real-time visitor responses.

Hans Haacke: All Connected,” which is due to close on January 26, showcases decades of politically motivated work by the New York artist, who is considered one of the progenitors of “institutional critique.” In its final weeks, two New York hacktivists have taken it upon themselves to interfere with New Museum Visitors Poll (2019), a interactive work that asks a series of multiple choice questions focusing on visitor’s political and economic views.

Visitors at "Hans Haacke: All Connected" Courtesy of Grayson Earle.

Visitors at “Hans Haacke: All Connected” Courtesy of Grayson Earle.

Grayson Earle, an artist and professor at Parsons, and his anonymous partner, an artist going by “M,” wrote in a manifesto shared with Artnet News that they gained access to the poll from outside of the museum by creating software that would interfere with the survey, ultimately “boosting the number of respondents by upwards of 50,000.” Though most of the responses Earle and M created were random, they homed in on one question in particular for targeted manipulation:

A global wealth report of 2013 by Credit Suisse, a major Swiss Bank, stated: “…the lower half of the global population collectively owns less than 1 percent of global wealth, while the richest 10 percent of adults own 87 percent of all wealth, and the top 1 percent account for almost half of all assets in the world.” What is your opinion on this?

Respondents were asked to select one of three answers: “Such inequality needs to be corrected,” “Accumulation of wealth should not be interfered with,” and “I don’t know.” Following the hack, the response “accumulation of wealth should not be interfered with” swelled from 8 percent to 85 percent.

"Hans Hack" courtesy of Grayson Earle.

“Hans Hack” courtesy of Grayson Earle.

In essence, Grayson explained in an email to Artnet News, he and M thought that by highlighting this question, “it better expresses the current political position of American museums like the New Museum, in light of the museum’s response [to] staff unionization efforts, the anti-gentrification protest against the New Museum’s Bronx iteration of Ideas City, and more broadly the work of recent activists who have highlighted the corporate stranglehold on museums.”

New Museum Visitors Poll is part of a body of work going back to the late-’60s that attempt to uses surveys and polls to raise political awareness among museum goers. When a similar question on wealth inequalities was posed to Haacke’s audience in 1971, responses overwhelmingly responded in favor of correcting such large gaps in wealth, with 81 percent as compared with the pre-hacked 85 percent in 2019.

A view of the skewed results, courtesy of Grayson Earle.

A view of the skewed results, courtesy of Grayson Earle.

“We hacked the survey results as a means of questioning the efficacy of sanctioned institutional critique,” Earle and M say, though they stress that that shouldn’t be the main takeaway.

Instead, the duo are hoping that the New Museum will take a hard look within itself and consider how it dealt with the staff’s recent push to unionize. In their letter, the two write that the Museum had a chance to make a real difference toward correcting economic inequality, which their audience clearly supports, if only they had “agreed to meet workers at the bargaining table, committed to reducing the income disparity between executive and low level staff, and ensured their annual budgeting fell in line with the sorts of progressive values they are trading off.”

After public disagreements with museum management, UAW 2110, which represents New Museum workers, announced in October that it had agreed to a new five-year contract that resulted in increased wages, additional paid time off, and lower health care costs.

The kiosk for Hans Haacke's new museum survey. Image: Ben Davis.

The kiosk for Hans Haacke’s new museum survey. Image: Ben Davis.

Asked about the unsolicited intervention, a spokesperson from the New Museum responded to Artnet News, “An external server hosting Hans Haacke’s New Museum Visitors Poll was hacked over the weekend. The breach has since been fixed by the programmer who worked with Haacke on the poll, and the work has been returned to the artist’s [Haacke’s] intent.”

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.