posted 2012-11-21 21:30:07

Haim Steinbach and Nina Beier at the Artist’s Institute

Institute focuses on new artist for the semester    

Irina Lotarevich

Staff Writer

A description of a Haim Steinbach sculpture often sounds like an absurdist poem, one in which unlikely descriptors are in nonsensical proximity. Since the late 1970s, Israeli artist Haim Steinbach has been producing such compositions of purchased objects and displaying them on shelves. The objects he chooses are often mass manufactured as multiples: boxes of Fruit Loops, action figures, ceramic jars, and generally all manner of plastic Americana kitsch. In charm of tradition (1985), currently on view at Hunter’s Artist’s Institute, Steinbach has placed two pairs of Nike sneakers and an eccentric lamp, the post made of faux deer hooves and an embroidered lampshade with scenes of frolicking deer, onto a simple two-tone laminated wooden shelf.

Steinbach is currently the “anchor artist” at Hunter College’s Artist’s Institute. The Institute is run by director Anthony Huberman, a Visiting Professor of Art History at Hunter College, and assistant curator Jenny Jaskey. The exhibition program is conceived by focusing on a single artist during a six-month season and exhibiting their work in conjunction with works, texts, or performances by others. A team of graduate art history and fine arts students assist Huberman and Jaskey in the daily operations of running the Institute as part of a graduate seminar called “The Artist’s Institute.”
The simple but potent gesture in charm of tradition is a hallmark of Steinbach, earning acclaim over the last three decades as an artist who decisively uses capitalist consumer culture for critical purposes. While Steinbach’s sculptures do not declare their politics up front, they do confront the viewer with an uncomfortable proposition almost immediately: Is Steinbach really making “art work” just by simply buying and displaying consumer kitsch? Despite a long tradition of the ready-made in art, Steinbach’s work still shocks in its apparent lack of hard work. He himself has commented on the disparity between what he puts into the work and what comes out of it: “I devised a formula by which there would be a price for the work—plus the price of the objects. Let’s say a shelf has three cornflakes boxes and six ceramic ghosts on it. If the ceramic ghosts are $10 apiece, that’s $60; the boxes, at $2 each, would make $6, bringing the total of the objects to $66. So if the price of a given work is $12,000, that’s $12,066.”
There is a value to Steinbach’s work beyond what its materials cost. Seeing a Steinbach sculpture in person might only be compared to reading a poem – the meaning of the work lies between the words. As unlikely as it may appear to read, “two pairs of white Nike sneakers and a lamp made of deer hooves,” produce a poetic statement – at once witty, critical, funny, and beautifully absurd.

Charm of tradition is exhibited alongside two new sculptures by young Danish artist Nina Beier that are part of her Demonstrators (2011-2012) series. Beier works by taking large prints of stock photographs of broken objects, dipping them in glue and draping them over pieces of furniture. In this case, two photos of hanging rope are draped over two black radiators. The image is juxtaposed over object just as different objects composed together in Steinbach’s sculptures.
Beier’s connection to Steinbach is obvious – while he uses consumer objects and figurines, she uses stock photography that is often appropriated for websites or corporate reports. Earlier this semester, Steinbach gave a talk at Hunter College in which he mentioned how he viewed the world as being composed not of objects, but of many surfaces. Beier and Steinbach both trade in the superficial currency of this surface-filled world, yet they subvert it. Their sculptures, composed of objects which are only surface, paradoxically produce an enormous amount of depth.

Nina Beier’s Demonstrators and Haim Steinbach’s charm of tradition are on view until Novermber 25th at the Artist’s Institute, located at 163 Eldridge Street.