Hans Haacke. Helmsboro Country (unfolded), 1990. Silkscreen prints and photographs on wood, cardboard and paper. Box: 30 1/2 x 80 x 47 1/2 in (77.5 x 203.2 x 120.7 cm), cigarettes, each: 6 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 69 1/2 in (16.5 x 16.5 x 176.5 cm.)
This work by Haacke, a large scale model of a cigarette pack, makes a direct reference to Jesse Helms, a conservative member of the Senate, who was tied to tobacco lobbying. During his time, Helms not only wanted to close down the National Endowment for the Arts, but also censored and suppressed artists and their exhibitions. Haacke’s giant cigarettes are rolled up reproductions of the Bill of Rights, and the work calls for freedom of speech while simultaneously acknowledging the fact that tobacco companies had become one of the most prolific donors of museums in the 1990s. Haacke proposed, “art works are no longer private affairs,” and that art institutions and museums were “on the slippery road to becoming public relations agents for the interests of big business and its ideological allies.” For Haacke, art for art’s sake no longer existed as he saw art institutions and museums as biased political bodies.