Haim Steinbach was born in 1944 in Rehovot, Israel. He moved with his family to New York in 1957 and became an American citizen in 1962. He studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and spent a year at the Université d’Aix in Marseille. After completing a BFA in 1968, Steinbach earned an MFA at Yale University in 1973.
Steinbach has cited Surrealism and Paul Cézanne’s use of color as early influences. In the early 1970s, he made Minimalist paintings, some of which were not actually paintings but linoleum affixed to plywood. But by the end of the decade, he destroyed these paintings, concentrating instead on large environmental works. His installation Display #7 (1979) at Artists Space in New York brought him early attention. This piece included a wall covered with strips of various wallpapers and found objects precisely arranged on shelving; the latter would become a defining element of his art. Active in New York’s East Village art scene, Steinbach participated in several exhibitions of the collective groups Fashion Moda and Group Material in the late 1970s and early 1980s. On view for a month in 1980 at Fashion Moda’s space in the South Bronx, his installation Changing Displays was an assemblage of discarded possessions the artist had found on the neighborhood’s streets. Steinbach here acted as both collector and curator, as he added and subtracted items to and from the piece over the course of the installation.
Steinbach’s art has been associated with Simulationism and Neo-Geo for its incorporation of consumer items and its precise composition. In addition, his practice of appropriating objects has led many critics to draw connections between his work and Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. Steinbach’s art, however, not only relates to the selection and presentation of objects but also explores contemporary consumer culture and our psychic attachments to things. His earlier shelf arrangements included handmade shelves and objects borrowed from friends or found at flea markets. In 1983–84, he introduced a standardized shelf: wedge-shaped, triangular in profile, and made of plywood with various plastic-laminate finishes. He also began to emphasize store-bought objects about this time. In the 1980s, he photographed many of these works on display in the houses of relatives and friends, years later exhibiting the black-and-white images.
From about 1990, some of Steinbach’s works included objects placed directly onto walls. He introduced cabinets, containers, and drawers into his oeuvre and returned to large-sized installations, using hog-pen siding, scaffolding, and steel shelving, among other materials. He has also included antiques and objects borrowed from museums in several works. In 1995 and 1996, Steinbach designed the sets, sound, and lighting for two fashion shows of the Strenesse Group in Milan, an experience he described as little different from creating his own art.
Steinbach’s first solo museum exhibition was held at the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Bordeaux (1988). Important exhibitions of his work have been organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (with Ettore Spalletti, 1993), Castello di Rivoli, Italy (1995 and 2004), Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna (1997–98), Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (2000), and Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2005). For Documenta 9 (1992), Steinbach borrowed and displayed a selection of the exhibition curator’s possessions. His art has also been included in the Venice Biennale (1993, 1997, and 2001) and numerous other international exhibitions. Steinbach has taught at Middlebury College in Vermont, Cornell University in Ithaca, the School of Visual Arts in New York, and the University of California in San Diego, among other schools. He lives and works in Brooklyn and San Diego.