These Objects Are Closer Than They Appear

At 68, Haim Steinbach Is Still Redefining Our Art

Object Lessons: Hunter College’s Artist’s Institute is currently hosting an exhibition of Haim Steinbach’s work.
Courtesy of Hunter College
Object Lessons: Hunter College’s Artist’s Institute is currently hosting an exhibition of Haim Steinbach’s work.

By Jillian Steinhauer

Published January 30, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Steinbach finally got his big chance in 1979, when he was given a solo exhibition at Artists Space, an alternative, not-for-profit gallery in SoHo that helped shape the Downtown art scene of the time. At that breakthrough show, he was already exhibiting object displays. In essence, he showed up in the art world fully formed.

“Doing that show basically meant, on the one hand, putting a foot through the door, or recognition for something that I suppose was pretty radical, and at the same time knowing that I cannot make a living on this kind of work,” he said. “Conceptually and practically, I hit a brick wall, but I had nowhere else to go. It makes me think of Sartre’s play ‘No Exit.’ I had no exit.”

In the decades that followed, Steinbach achieved a fair measure of recognition and success. But he also struggled, especially when compared with someone like Jeff Koons, who surfaced in the art world around the same time and quickly became a superstar. Despite vast differences in tone and presentation, Steinbach’s work was lumped together with Koons’s simply because both men used everyday objects in their art. Critics labeled it “commodity critique” and moved on.

As the years passed, the art world gradually came around to the idea of objects and object display. The Museum of Modern Art, for instance, began a series called “Artist’s Choice” in 1989, for which the institution invites artists to dig through its collection and curate an exhibition; the results usually involve groupings of disparate objects and a breaking down of traditional categorical hierarchies, concepts that underpin Steinbach’s practice.

It’s been a slow process, though, and sometimes it seems like the art world is only just catching up to him now. He’s suffered a lack of recognition along the way — “This is just an old story repeated again,” he said — but happily, something like a Steinbach revival seems afoot. In fall 2011 he had his first exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, garnering strong reviews; in the fall of 2012 and part of this winter, he has been in the spotlight at the Artist’s Institute and this coming summer he will be featured in a solo exhibition at Bard College.

It could be that, more than ever before, the art world is letting go of the paradigm of art as a standalone illusion and embracing the intrusion of everyday life. It could be that we live in a post-commodity world, where we accept that objects have both commercial and cultural values. It could be that after years of teaching, Steinbach’s influence is finally coming through in the work of younger artists, many of whom may have been his students. Jaskey sees a parallel between Steinbach’s process of bringing together disparate objects and the Google Image search/Tumblr/Pinterest culture of today.

“I think this is a really strong relationship to younger artists, even our generation’s culture, the Internet, because that’s all about association,” she said. “One reading of [Steinbach’s work] is, it’s about a finding and a presenting,” which resonates with today’s remix culture because it involves “showing other people what we found. The meaning is not in what we made, but in what we put together.”

Jillian Steinhauer is a senior editor of the art blog Hyperallergic and a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.