The Steinhilber variations

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Imagine a group show of contemporary art. It includes a manly action-painting made from knotted balloons. (As they deflate over days, this pseudo-Jackson Pollock goes limp.) Near it is an elegant sculptural column, Brancusi-esque, built of hangers. In a separate room, two robotic vacuums try, hopelessly, to clean up a storm of packing peanuts. Farther on, there's a heat lamp mounted over a museum pedestal, with the glowing space between them counting as sculpture.

See such a show, and you might think its curator had assembled a tight little package of art.

But would you imagine they were all by the same artist?

Dan Steinhilber, one of the leading lights of the Washington scene, made all those works, over a professional career that turns 10 this year. They've earned him solos from Baltimore to Houston and group shows from Toronto to Siena. This summer, they've also earned him a residency at Socrates Sculpture Park, on the waterfront in Queens.

Encountered here and there, over the years, those Steinhilbers have sometimes come across as one-liners. But looking at Steinhilber's entire practice, those one-liners start to string together into a promising novella.

To do him justice, clearly what Steinhilber needs is a mid-career retrospective. Since museums have yet to step up to the plate, we're giving him one in our pages. A selection of Dan Steinhilber's work appears on pages E6-7.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company