Haim Steinbach

Haim Steinbach, “Capri Suite 3”, 1988. Collezione Lia Rumma, Napoli. In comodato a Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Foto © Amedeo Benestante. | Haim Steinbach, “Capri Suite 3”, 1988. Lia Rumma collection, Napoli. On loan to Madre · museo d’arte contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli. Photo © Amedeo Benestante.

Israeli-born Haim Steinbach (Israel, 1944) begins showing in New York, where he has lived since the mid-70s. The lively atmosphere there is one of great cultural experimentation and is characterized by the activity of groups of artists such as Fashion Moda and Group Material, with whom Steinbach collaborates constantly. In 1980 the space managed by Fashion Moda hosts a solo show of the artist’s work entitled Changing Displays, made up of a series of recycled boxes and pedestals, used as a support on which to install other everyday objects. As suggested by the title of the exhibition, the arrangement of the objects changes each day, so that it is an ongoing installation suggesting the possibility of establishing ever-new relations between things and space. Steinbach introduces, for the first time ever on this occasion, the concept of “display,” which will prove to be crucial within the context of his poetics, focused on the use of devices that seek to show objects borrowed from everyday life, based on a procedure that assimilates the tradition of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made to the contemplation of a consumer society expressed by the Pop Art artists. From the mid-80s, Steinbach standardizes the supports he chooses, which henceforth will be designed or produced specifically for his works according to a reductionist aesthetic that combines the idea of the commercial and museum display with the memory of the sculptures of Donald Judd and the Minimalist movement. Whereas Duchamp saw the decontextualization of the object as being the key to modifying its function and meaning – for instance, his famous overturned urinal which, once placed in the room of a museum, was called Fountain, Steinbach draws the public’s attention to ordinary objects and their everyday use, showing the path to their meaning by juxtaposing them with other objects of a different nature.

Capri. Suite 3, which is the work in the collection, was made in 1987 on the occasion of the artist’s solo exhibition at Galleria Lia Rumma, and it is part of a larger series inspired by the island of Capri, its nature, its traditions and its stereotypes. On a reflecting steel shelf that evokes the sun’s reflection on the water and the brightness of the summer atmosphere, Steinbach arranges three glass containers filled with water and two wave-machines, that is, battery-run devices that, when turned on, mimic the movement of the waves thanks to the blue liquid they contain. Objects are associated as though they were words: the contrast between the common naturalness and the connotation of the object as souvenir, and the network of meanings to which they can be referred, generates a continuous series of unprecedented associations, akin to what happens with the purity of the isolated words in a haiku. The artist evokes Capri both as an abstraction and a natural scenario, via the images of the water that surrounds the island and the horizon that is constantly in motion. At the same time, the choice of alluding to the sea via the use of a souvenir, allows Steinbach to describe Capri through the lens of contemporaneity, as a tourist attraction and potential oasis to flee to.