Off the Shelf: Haim Steinbach Returns

The Eighties Neo-Geo star is back with a new gallery and, maybe, a new audience

He paused for a minute, and then the pitch of his voice rose. “And then I realized it has the most perfect form, and someone designed it, and it’s not that awful, and it’s funny. It has big eyes. They were $40 each, and I decided, I’m going to buy two. I don’t know if I’ll ever use them. I’m going to have more inventory, more stuff to store, and it could sit there for years and I may never use it. But some compulsion made me get it.”

In deciding on the particular pairings of his objects, he said that he asks himself, “How do I feel about it? Why do I feel what I feel about it? Should I feel something else about it? Who would love it? Who would hate it? You go back and forth. You don’t know how it’s going to fall.”

The show at Tanya Bonakdar comes about just as interest in Mr. Steinbach’s work is informing many of today’s most talked-about young artists. “The influence is profound and too often not acknowledged,” the art critic Bruce Hainley told The Observer in an e-mail, citing sculptors like Rachel Harrison and arrangers of found objects like Darren Bader. (New York Times critic Roberta Smith recently named Mr. Steinbach an influence on Josephine Meckseper, and his work has appeared over the years juxtaposed with a younger generation, in group shows like 1999’s “Free Coke” at New York’s Greene Naftali Gallery, where he appeared alongside Ms. Meckseper, Gareth James, Ricci Albenda and Adam McEwen.)

For Mr. Hainley, Mr. Steinbach’s work is also about far more than commodities: “Haim Steinbach always, crucially, scrambles how an object is ever made personal, and there is a gorgeous but exacting syntax to everything on any of his shelves,” he said.

“I drooled a lot,” Darren Bader, the artist, age 33, told the The Observer, recounting his reaction to Mr. Steinbach’s last show at Sonnabend, in 2007. “He remains somehow very conscious of the value of objects outside of their aesthetic qualities and the hindrances of aesthetic approaches, or that charade.”

How will Mr. Steinbach’s work look at a gallery associated less with artists of his generation and more with younger artists like Olafur Eliasson, Sarah Sze and Erneso Neto? He isn’t the only artist making such a move—84-year-old painter Alex Katz switched in the spring from the Pace Gallery, his longtime dealer, to younger downtown impresario Gavin Brown, whose stable is much younger than Pace’s, and Ashley Bickerton, 52, departed Sonnabend for Lehmann Maupin a few years ago.

Pressed about why he had picked Ms. Bonakdar over his other suitors, Mr. Steinbach explained, “You can have a major dealer wanting to work with you, and they can have major artists you want to be in company with, but you need to stop and think: this dealer may not really be connecting with your work.” He paused. “They just see you as an object among objects.”

Discussing his latest works, Mr. Steinbach presents an approach to the production and interpretation of his art that could come across as blasé, but instead seems to suggest a peculiar openness and generosity. “It could be loved, it could be criticized, it could be mocked, it could be embraced,” he said, describing the potential reactions to his pairings. It sounded as if he would be equally pleased with each reaction.

arusseth@observer.com

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that Sonnabend Gallery is continuing to represent Haim Steinbach, in conjunction with Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.