Haim Steinbach | un-color becomes alter ego

Haim Steinbach discusses the psychological, aesthetic, cultural and ritualistic aspects of collecting and arranging everyday objects.

Haim Steinbach, un-color becomes alter ego, 1985. Courtesy of the artist.
A still from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989)

Haim Steinbach’s work redefined the status of objects in art. In a recent discussion with Shifting Vision, the artist spoke about how objects' meanings evolve in changing space, time, and socio-cultural contexts.

In one of his most iconic works, first shown at the Cable Gallery in New York City in 1985, Steinbach placed a boombox on a shelf. Next to the boombox, there were two Yoda masks on a support. ‘The title was un-color becomes alterego. The boombox was an object of the moment with a particular history,’ he explained. ‘I would say 98 per cent of objects that show up on my shelves are set with other objects. There's a context, a contradiction, there is a shift of frame.’

New York, 14th Street, 1983. Photo: Morris Engle.
New York, 14th Street, 1983. Photo: Morris Engle.

‘The work somehow got channelled into a critique of capitalism — that’s not what I was thinking when I was doing the work. Had I been thinking in those terms I would have reached a dead end. I think my work has lived beyond that,’ Steinbach said.

Haim Steinbach, ultra red #1, 1986. Courtesy of the artist.
Haim Steinbach, ultra red #1, 1986. Courtesy of the artist.

‘Is my work political because I am using a capitalist product? Does it begin or end there? Is it neither capitalist nor communist — but just an object that can change context and take other meanings?’

The artist told Shifting Vision that he has been prompted to revisit the history of images. ‘I’m looking at images and at how representations raise questions about what they meant then, and what they mean now … culturally, socially, politically, aesthetically.’

Haim Steinbach, supremely black, 1985. Courtesy of the artist.
Haim Steinbach, supremely black, 1985. Courtesy of the artist.