New York

Michael Steiner

Marlborough | Midtown

From my point of view Michael Steiner’s achievement—like, in this respect, Fugate-Wilcox’s—is predicated on a dubious involvement with the question of the work as a commodity. But in his case this is a consequence of an overt, artistic choice which—because of the support system in the world at large, that is, for reasons that are only partially artistic, attendant on his making this choice—happens to locate Steiner in a milieu that I regard as compromised, rather than a refusal to engage in dialogue at all while using a common set of terms. Which is what, in the case of Fugate-Wilcox, drives one away from the work and toward speculation about its identity as a fiscal fetish. 

Steiner does not employ a set of terms that are generally in use any longer. As I’ve said elsewhere, he’s a leading figure in that group of sculptors who want to insist that Anthony Caro is the apotheosis of art history. Their position seems to be that sculpture is a pictorial art—by which they mean that its space is conceptually discontinuous with real space—and (now) derives its spatial terminology exclusively from the distillation of Renaissance space—an attempt at “deconstruction ”which, as it closed one system, relocated the conditions of an idealist paradigm in order to provide for its thematic continuity that occurred in Analytic and Synthetic Cubism. 

I find this work uninteresting because I can only see it as trapped in a set of conventions which are unable to account for its literal as well as its abstract existence. In connection with this, it also seems to me—at this stage in the game—that Steiner and the others have taken an attitude to Cubism which is itself inconsistently selective. A Braque painting is more of a thing, at the same time as it’s a schematized, abstract space, than a Steiner sculpture is. And it’s this—his allegiance to the abstract at the expense of the literal—which suggests that Steiner’s convictions, which require the art object to be a privileged one—about which one can’t ask any of the questions normally asked about objects, can’t propose any commonality between the art thing and other things—connect him to a whole bullshit tradition which wants to say that artistic order can only offer authoritarian paradigms. 

But, for all my reservations about his complacence toward an inherited taste that at this point amounts to an ideological prejudice, Steiner is still clearly the best of the bunch. This is because he draws his inspiration (intuitively?) from the most risky phase of Caro’s career. Mana, 1972, is low and wide like Caro’s Prairie, and concerned with a comparable anthropomorphism. This sculpture “squats” in a manner analogous to that in which Caro’s “floats.” 

Unfortunately, competence in the service of an inappropriate ambition engenders a feeling of pathos. And this is what happens here, in work whose delicate self-containment suggests a digression that’s finally repulsive because of its denial of any involvement with the material world. Which is to say that Steiner’s sculpture—like, one suspects, its audience—prefers to inhabit a myth rather than make of itself a context in which to confront the issue of self-contradiction. Or, to quote from Thomas McGuane’s novel, Ninety-two in the Shade. “If you’re at one remove, you’re already too far gone.”

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe