Haim Steinbach: once again the world is flat.

A great thing about London’s Serpentine Gallery, is that it is set in the midst of Hyde Park, so when wandering through the park, a plethora of people stumble across this small but artistically rich gallery. On Bank-holiday, i stumbled into Haim Steinbach’s exhibition on its final day.

The entrance of the gallery is always a little daunting, and one always finds themselves in the shop first collecting all sorts of fashion and art books, magazines and the occasional postcard to add to a bustling collection. Then finally, one enters the exhibit. Knowing little of Steinbach’s work other than his most recent 2011 Creature collection with my favourites being no elephants and see.

This exhibition at the Serpentine was notably different than that which i expected of his works despite there being a clear similarity, i seemed to have expected more white space if anything.

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Shelf with Picnic Set, 1983
Wood, oil paint shelf; wood, glass, and metal objects
Photograph © 2014 Marianna Michael

Steinbach has a preoccupation with the fundamental human practice of acquiring and arranging objects as explained by the Serpentine online.  

This exhibition serves as a visual exploration of human nature’s desire to collect, something which resonates with almost everyone. What these displays of pieces does, is attract audiences with both artistic and non-artistic passions. For the non-art enthusiasts, it almost serves as a parallel to ones own collected possessions. It reminds me of my one collections, and more so, my grandparents collections and ways of displaying them. 

The plethora of salt and pepper shakers resonated with me, as i too own a selection, though not as fulfilled as Steinbach’s. What is it about salt and pepper shakers? A practical novelty perhaps. Practical and decorative maybe? They are what we receive as gifts, or purchase on our travels. A memory embodied.

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Photograph © 2014 Marianna Michael

“When the offered salt and pepper shakers are gathered, I will place them side by side on a long glass shelf. The last time I did that, at the Statens Museum in Copenhagen, I just took in the shakers as they arrived, two by two, straight out of the box and lined them up accordingly. The result was always surprising. “ – Haim Steinbach

Haim Steinbach, basics (1986), i.e. three teddy bears effortlessly placed on a wooden block shelf against a white wall. One bear wears latex, the other two wear military costumes, somewhat different than what many would remember of their childhood bears. “The teddy bear trend in art started with German artist Haim Steinback lining up three teddy bears against a wall in 1986, evolved to the point where artists were producing enormous machines inhabited by hundreds of bears (Anette  Messager at Documenta XI in 2002) and culminated in Ydessa Hendele’s 2010 Partners…”– The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design.

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basics, 1986
Plastic laminated wood shelf; polyester, plastic and foam “Parabears”, cotton uniforms, felt hats; vinyl and metal bear
Photograph © 2014 Marianna Michael

Whilst the bears form a historic element of the exhibition, our childhood favourite Annie also makes an appearance as she stands above Spiderman.

“It occurred to me that we look at objects with certain priorities of what we see, or what we choose to look at.” – Haim Steinbach

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Shelf with Annie Figurine, 1981
Wood, plastic masks, contact paper shelf; plaster and paint figurine 
Photograph © 2014 Marianna Michael

“I was looking at wallpaper, since it was obviously clear that a colonial-patterned wallpaper was associated with a particular period, or a flowery, rustic wallpaper could be associated with a certain British taste or a traditional culture.The question is then how to deal with the wallpaper, since my work comes out of the question of the painting as a flat space that becomes an object via the Minimalist discourse. Then of course I came up with the idea of sections of walls. In other words, the wall became like a painting, like a Barnett Newman that’s divided into sections, in which there is a blue strip – or a ‘zip’ as he called it – and then there is an expanse or a layer of red, and then at the other end maybe another strip…” – Haim Steinbach

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Photograph © 2014 Marianna Michael
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