Hans Haacke, News: A Case Study on Migration and Cross-Institutional Collaboration for a Conceptual Software Based Artwork

Mark Hellar and Daniel Finn
Electronic Media Review, Volume Six: 2019-2020


Hans Haacke’s (b. 1936) News was first realized in 1969, for the Prospect 69 exhibition in the Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf. Haacke presented the concept of the work as follows: A telex machine installed in the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle prints all of the news communicated by the German press agency DPA. The printouts were put on display for further reading one day after being delivered, and on the third day, the rolls of paper were labeled and dated, then stored in plexiglass containers.  

The work was reconstructed in 2005 for an exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York. In this manifestation, the telex machine was replaced with a dot matrix printer that was fed from a software program that gathered news from Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds via the Internet. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art acquired News in 2008 and displayed it in this form for the exhibit The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now. In 2017, the museum exhibited it again for the Nothing Stable Under Heaven exhibition.  

In preparation for the exhibition, it was determined that the computer source code needed a complete migration, and a complete rewrite of the software was completed. As an instruction-based, conceptual art installation, News varies significantly from iteration to iteration, including the instructions themselves. When the Smithsonian American Art Museum loaned the work from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2018, all that changed hands between the museums was the most recent source code. The materials for the installation are sourced new for each installation, and the code must change to accommodate new specifications from the artist.  

As every component of the work changes with each iteration, extensive collaboration between the artist, developers, conservators, curators, registrars, and exhibition designers is essential to a successful realization of the work. In this talk, we will have a detailed look at the process of migrating the software and what it entailed. We will reflect on the collaboration that took place with the artist studio in the process to maintain the authenticity of the work. Additionally, we will share what was learned from cross-institutional partnerships in loaning a conceptual software-based artwork. 


Mark Hellar
Hellar Studios LLC

Daniel Finn
Conservator, Time-Based Media
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Washington, DC