Haim Steinbach’s art is a staging of objects in formats that underscore their presence both anthropologically as well as aesthetically. These objects come from a spectrum of social and cultural contexts and are put together in a way that is analogous to the arrangement of words in a poem, or to the musical notes in a score.
Steinbach’s work sets forth new contexts for a wide range of objects that are handmade and mass-produced, ordinary as well as extraordinary, new and old. He has said that his work is “about vernacular, which is a common form of language: things that we make, express and produce” and that it is “not only about selecting and arranging objects of my own choice, but also presenting the objects chosen by others”. For Documenta IX (1992), for example, Steinbach transported the entire collection of objects that he found on the shelving in curator Jan Hoet’s office and rearranged them in a specifically conceived architectural structure in the work Display #30 – An Offering (collectibles of Jan Hoet).
Steinbach often refers to the structures he builds for the objects he presents as “framing devices”. The prototypical wedge-shaped shelf that he conceived for the presentation of the objects he selects is a structure employing a geometrical system based on three angles – 90, 50, and 40 degrees – of a triangle. The shelf is a device since it functions like a level or a musical instrument, and may be enlarged or reduced proportionally to the three angles of its cross-section, and in relation to the objects on it. Regarding colour, a term also used in music, a layer of plastic laminate skin may set the tone for an object when applied to the section on which it is placed.
Steinbach sets up a dialectic within his work between 'high' versus 'low' culture, the unique versus the multiple, the personal versus the universal. Furthermore, these dialectics function both in terms of objects and language since the work's titles as well as the objects themselves are 'found material'. The titles come from a wide range of sources such as texts, headings in magazines, or adverts. They are often statements and sayings that may be idiomatic, allegorical, proverbial or axiomatic. Steinbach also uses these texts as works in their own right. Presented in black vinyl on the wall in variable scales (large and small) these 'found objects' are presented exactly as they are, with both content and typeface unchanged since Steinbach considers both aspects to be integral to the wording as well as image of the final work.