Since 1965 Hans Haacke (German, born 1936) has been living in New York making work that explores the uncomfortable and often hidden connections between art, power, money, politics, and business. His imposing bronze sculpture Gift Horse (2014) was created as a commission for London’s Fourth Plinth project, which invites artists to fill the vacant space in Trafalgar Square originally designed for an equestrian monument to King William IV (1765–1837). The base intended for the monument was left empty due to a lack of funding; since 1999, it has featured temporary installations by contemporary artists.
For his contribution, Haacke took inspiration from an engraving by the British equine artist George Stubbs (1724–1806) to create a monumental bronze horse skeleton that stands more than 15 feet tall. In its original display, Gift Horse stood across the square from a statue of King George IV (1762–1830) riding bareback, complementing the scale of George IV’s equestrian sculpture while challenging its intentions.
In Gift Horse, a large bow, reminiscent of a ribbon tied to a present, prominently adorns the horse’s right leg. LED lights embedded in the bow continuously display the market prices of the country’s leading stock exchange, inevitably linking art and finance. “I’ve always been interested in systems and how they work. Political and social systems, of course, are part of that. They can’t be escaped,” Haacke said.
The installation of Gift Horse on the Art Institute’s Bluhm Family Terrace marks the first time that the work will be seen in North America.
This exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago with major funding from the Bluhm Family Endowment Fund, which supports exhibitions of modern and contemporary sculpture.