artist / participant
Haim Steinbach’s is an art about the nature of art. Placing often banal and mass produced objects on his wedged laminate shelves he forces us to consider what is given access to the history of art, and why. Moving beyond the Duchampian notion of the ready made, viewers are asked to think about not only the object itself, but also the relationship between the objects. Calling into play the social life of the object, its heritage and biography, it becomes apparent that things are valued for different reasons. An insole loses its commercial value once it has been used, but to the owner it becomes at first invaluable, and then worthless as it wears out. It’s status changes again once Steinbach places it within a framework of artistic institutions. In this way, everyday items can be subversive, challenging art snobbery, whilst democratising the art object. For some, two pairs of insoles and a pile of corks on a shelf might simply be old items no longer useful. For others the juxtaposition of objects might conjure memories of a loving couple sipping wine on a balmy summer evening. The emotional value of the objects and how it is measured is then, utterly subjective.
Steinbach’s sculptures and installations consider how contemporary consumer culture places objects in hierarchies. Working with bought and found items his work consistently challenges concepts of display and redefines the status of the art object. Situating everyday objects within the position of ‘high art’, Steinbach works to remove judgmental hierarchies surrounding everyday items, to consider the true nature of the object’s existence. Suggesting that all objects have equal value and importance, the groups of objects placed on shelves or placed in drawers or cupboards, take on new meanings and allow unexpected experiences when considered out of context.
Bringing the aesthetic qualities of ordinary items to the fore, Steinbach displays them on minimalist shelves. The triangular support structures become sculptures in their own right, the use of sharp angles, colour and mirrors creating a physical presence. The contrast between the smooth flat surface and the fetishised toys, mugs and doll parts creates a provocative asymmetry, each casting the other in a new light. The formation of each sculpture reveals the already present beauty of the ordinary object. A careful arrangement of door mats and dustpans on a mirrored surface presents us with familiar items, but displayed in this manner we are asked to consider the individual components of the sculpture in a new way. The artistic organisation of objects disrupts their identity as consumer goods. The shift from utilitarian commodity to aesthetic construct is echoed by a shift from object of necessity to object of desire.
This exhibition is Haim Steinbach’s first solo show in London and will bring together a selection of works from the last fourteen years. Unveiling the latent aesthetic within all objects, Steinbach’s work forces us to reconsider our appreciation of the everyday object. The work Untitled (mattress, shopping cart), 1990, included in this exhibition, comprises a found mattress next to a dysfunctional shopping cart, placed within a doorless wardrobe-like structure. Looking at this work one is struck by its arrangement of rectangles and lines. Transforming the everyday into the exceptional, the mattress and shopping cart become part of an attractive and desirable sculpture that contains a magical quality.
Confronting culture's obsession with objects, commodities and collecting, Haim Steinbach has been an influential exponent of art made with pre-existing objects since the 1970s. He was a leading figure in creative debates throughout the 1980s and a major influence on the art that followed. Steinbach will be participating in a panel discussion entitled “The Psychology of Collecting” at the Frieze Art Fair on Sunday 17 October, from 1-3pm.
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