Tuesday, 25 March 2014


ONCE AGAIN THE WORLD IS FLAT until 21 April 2014
Serpentine Gallery

Shelf with Annie Figurine, 1981, wood, 
plastic masks,plaster & paintphotographer (c) 2014 Hugh Grendinning

I came to the Serpentine Gallery after a glorious sunny  walk across three parks, through daffodils, crocuses, harebells and blossom with happy tourists speaking in many tongues, while squirrels, moorhens, ducks and geese noisily sorted out their domestic arrangements. And I found that Haim Steinbach's extraordinary talent has produced a show which is bracing and fun. 

Once Again The World Is Flat illustrates Steinbach's forty-year career, starting with his minimalist paintings of coloured bars placed round a monochrome square. These are  juxtaposed with sculpture, artefacts and children’s playthings: an Ajax can, a retro kettle, a plastic train engine. The  ordinary ( salt and pepper pots) as well as the extraordinary (a ceramic cookie jar shaped as a grinnng skull), are side by side. Some objects are hand made, some mass-produced, some old, some new. The artist questions 'high' versus 'low' culture, the unique versus the multiple, the personal versus the universal.

Shelf with Cookie Jar 1982. wood, paint, spray paint, shelf, plaster
The anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn pointed out that each human being is simultaneously like some other human being, like all other people and like no other person. We each need a set of 'cultural glasses' which help us to perceive the world around us, interpret meanings and frame our actions. To do this we create classification systems for everything from foodstuffs to colours to diseases. The content varies from place to place and time to time but a system remains. This learned behaviour shapes our lives and our tastes. We have views, for example, on what is exotic and what is of value. Steinbach provokes us to think again.  Take the salt and pepper shakers which form a new work for the exhibition. Displayed in long rows, each pair has its own history and story, carrying a  meaning from a former context and, by being displayed, connecting  the private and the public sphere. Are they now 'put together in a way that is analogous to the arrangement of words in a poem, or to the musical notes in a score'? 

The Serpentine has also invited curators from a range of private and public institutions – including the Zabludowicz Collection and the V&A Museum of Childhood in London and Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery – to select works from their collections to be included in the exhibition.



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