“Der Pralinenmeister” from 1981 is a major work by the artist Hans Haacke and is connected to the Museum Ludwig in a very special way. Haacke was born in Cologne in 1936 and is one of the most internationally renowned artists in the city. After studying art education and subsequently teaching in Cologne, he moved to New York in 1965, where he still lives today.
“Der Pralinenmeister” is regarded as an iconic work by the artist and links Haacke’s special way of looking at social and political systems in a special way with the cultural history of Cologne and the Museum Ludwig. The work was created around the same time as the construction of the museum began and was originally conceived for the Cologne exhibition “Westkunst”, which has been presenting modern and contemporary art since 1939. The work addresses correlations between cultural and tax policy decisions using the example of the chocolate company Monheim AG and its then chairman of the supervisory board, Peter Ludwig.
The work consists of 14 panels, which are arranged into seven diptychs and are juxtaposed in their presentation. The design of the large-format screen prints resembles the style of chocolate packaging or company certificates; On them, product packaging from Monheim AG and photographs are put together to form collages. Half of the panels bear slogans or quotes from the art historian and collector Peter Ludwig and describe the development of his art collection. The panels opposite them show documentary photos of workers in the manufacture and packaging of the chocolate and illustrate the growth of the Monheim Group.
Although the work does not make a clear political statement, it was not shown at the Westkunst exhibition due to political pressure. Instead, it was shown at the same time in the Paul Maenz Gallery in Cologne. Haacke declined a request from Ludwig regarding a possible acquisition of the work because he feared that it would never be exhibited. “Der Pralinenmeister” has been back in Cologne since 2018 and is part of Ludwig’s graphic arts collection, which was also made possible by the support of the artist.
It is not uncommon for Haacke’s works to end up in the institutions, collections or exhibition contexts for which they were originally developed with a somewhat longer delay. As a museum employee, I feel particularly drawn to the institutional criticism that emanates from the work. As part of Ludwig’s Graphic Collection, it calls for a deeper, ongoing engagement with the history of the museum and the city – both important aspects of museum collection activity.
For Hans Haacke, the debates resulting from his projects are an element of his artistic work. In a 1981 interview, he was asked if his work was “a kind of artistic scandal journalism” and therefore more of “information design”. Haacke replied that there is a certain magical character to sensationalism that “leads to all sorts of consequences that are actually based on nothing material: information magic”. The “information magic” he mentioned has experienced extreme acceleration in the more than 40 years since the interview and has lost none of its explosiveness.
Eboa Itondo is curator in the graphic collection of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.
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