Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 documents the ownership and control of urban space. The work exposes the properties and transactions of Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, which in 1971 represented the biggest concentration of real estate in New York under one group, and it is still an active corporation today. The properties of the group were found primarily in the Lower East Side and Harlem, two neighbourhoods characterised by their ethnic and racial minorities. The information was culled from New York City public records and covered approximately twenty years prior to 1971. About seventy companies proved to be the owners of these properties, often interchanging among each other mortgages or properties, which obscured ownership and granted fiscal advantages.
Composed of various elements, the work includes 142 photographs of buildings, accompanied by typewritten sheets with different data on the property such as its address, the type of building, the size of the lot, date of acquisition, owner, or its assessed land value. Haacke then synthesised this material into diagrams revealing how the system was made up of an obscure network of family ties and dummy corporations. Two maps of the Lower East Side and Harlem highlighting the lots owned by the Shapolsky network complete the work.
Haacke’s piece exceeds its investigation of the Shapolsky family and expands into a critique of relations of property. It frames the fundamental contradiction of the real estate system in which the Shapolsky operation occurred: the opposition between market requirements and the social needs of city residents.1 Haacke’s photographs, taken from street level, neglected compositional considerations and testify to the type of investments these properties represented – housing in impoverished neighbourhoods lucratively run at a low level of maintenance – and reinforce the impression of the city as a mere economic product.
The work was part of the Haacke’s individual exhibition programmed for 1971 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Thomas Messer, director of the museum, called Shapolsky et al. ‘inadequate’ and refused it along with two other works, judging them incompatible with the functions of an artistic institution. The exhibition was cancelled a month and a half before its scheduled date, when the artist refused to remove these three works.2 Edward F. Fry, curator of the exhibition, defended the works and was subsequently Fred. Many commentators on the controversy have speculated that the Board of Trustees of the Guggenheim Museum were connected to the real estate group, but this has never been proven.
Gelatin silver print and printed and typed ink on paper
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation. Purchased jointly by Fundació Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, with funds from the Director's Discretionary Fund and the Painting