Haim Steinbach: once again the world is flat: Serpentine, London
once again the world is flat. was an expansive exhibition by American artist Haim Steinbach at the Serpentine Gallery in Spring 2014.
Producing an extraordinary body of work throughout his impressive 40 year career, Steinbach has redefined the status of the object in art through his continued investigation into what constitutes art objects and the ways in which they are displayed. Presented in once again the world is flat were major new installations created for the Serpentine Gallery, reconfigured historical installations and a number of grid-based paintings from the early 1970s.
Up until the mid-1970s, Steinbach explored Minimalist ideas through the calculated placement of coloured bars around monochrome squares. He then abandoned painting to configure works using linoleum based on a range of historical floor designs, responding to both high and low cultural narratives. By the late 1970s, Steinbach began a transition to the three dimensional, collecting and arranging old and new, handmade and mass-produced objects, coming from a spectrum of contexts. These objects were displayed on what Steinbach termed ‘framing devices’, ranging from simple wedge-shaped shelves, to handmade constructions, to modular building systems.
Steinbach’s preoccupation with the fundamental human practice of acquiring and arranging objects has remained a key focus within his work and brings to the fore the universality of this common ritual.
Steinbach’s interest in display extends to the environments in which objects are placed, and thus photographs, images, models and recreations of interiors are prevalent throughout the exhibition. He often positions his objects within larger architectural installations resembling domestic interiors. Several of these historical installations were reconceived within the exhibition, where sheets of wallpaper sat on studded walls. These walls served to guide the viewers’ navigation through the galleries and highlighted the architectural qualities of the space.
On show within the installation was a new installation, comprising salt and pepper shakers lent by members of the public. By transporting objects that hold their own stories into the Serpentine Gallery, Steinbach’s participatory gesture reactivates them within this new context and makes the connection between the private and the public sphere. The Serpentine also invited colleagues from a range of institutions to select works from their collections to be incorporated into a scaffold shelving unit designed by Steinbach. Through juxtaposing these paintings, sculptures, artefacts and children’s playthings, Steinbach uncovered alternative meanings inherent in the objects, while subverting traditional notions of display and the value of objects. In presenting these loans and the salt and pepper shakers, Steinbach also unites the day-to-day habits of the home with the seemingly more conventional museum-based act of collection and display.
A series of talks and events took place to accompany the exhibition, including a talk from Emma Enderby and Ben Highmore, and Martino Gamper and Haim Steinbach, in conversation with Alice Rawsthorn.
once again the world is flat was programmed in collaboration with New York’s CCS Bard Hessel Museum of Art and the Kunsthalle Zürich.