“Haim Steinbach”, Artforum
October 6, 2011

Here’s the Artforum review on Haim Steinbach. It’s all wrong. The work is not about consumerism, it’s about seeing and context. It’s about place and rhythm and language and form, that’s why the objects he uses are virtually worthless, it’s not about consumption.

Haim Steinbach
10.06.11
SARAH LOOKOFSKY
Artforum

09.08.11-10.22.11 Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

The Kong is the most represented object in the latest iterations of Haim Steinbach’s signature shelf assemblages. It is a curvaceous rubber form that comes in a variety of colors, the size of a small fist. Somewhere between a Brancusi and a butt plug, the Kong is in fact a dog toy, but in this exhibition, only canine connoisseurs would recognize it as such. Throughout the show, the Kong bookends and supplements frog-shaped cookie jars, a ducklike Alessi soap dispenser, a Star Wars trooper, and an amateur rendition of Mr. Peanut carved in wood, among other anthropomorphic objects. The show’s title, “Creature,” evinces a continuation of Steinbach’s ongoing procedure in which a variety of different things—useful as well as useless—become equivalents when placed on the same artisanally crafted ledge. Next to Darth Vader, for example, even a drainpipe can assume character.

The structure of the show is itself akin to one of the curated shelves; while the flow from one selection to the next exhibits meticulous orchestration, the selector’s standpoint remains characteristically oblique. The room adjacent to the shelved collections features exquisite vitrines within which small copies of Degas sculptures stand atop beat-up wooden stools. Upstairs, temporary drywall partitions clad with different wallpaper patterns lead to a black surface where white lettering reads: YOU DON’T SEE IT, DO YOU? It is never clear what “it” is, yet it could be that artworks become intractably bound to the luxury interiors they inhabit, irrespective of the social context out of which they initially emerged. The show’s culmination is a completely white room that is intersected by a large beam on which a toy version of the sea monster from the filmic Black Lagoon rests. Positioned as the mute conclusion to the show, this creature fails to communicate what is perhaps the unspoken undercurrent of the exhibition: that commodity fetishism works to merge the human body with the inanimate, thereby commingling desire with death. The fact that every object in the show, however, looks like something one could employ for sexual pleasure or unidirectional conversation may hint at why we continue to ceaselessly buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have.