Silvia Steiger

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Silvia Steiger
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Linz, Austria
OccupationVisual artist
Years active1964 - present

Silvia Steiger (born 1940) is a visual artist living and working in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.[1] Originally German, Steiger has held Dutch nationality since June 1989. Steiger is a conceptual multi-media artist. Themes in her work are the interaction between inner and outer space, coincidence and intuition; fear and shelter; trace and shadow; love and desire, consolation and healing. Her approach to these topics is sharp and light at the same time. Her art is to be found in The Netherlands in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Museum Belvédère, Lisser Art Museum, Rijksmuseum Twenthe and several corporate and private collections in the Netherlands and Germany.


Silvia Steiger was born in Linz, Austria. Her earliest childhood coincided with the Second World War. In 1940 her father worked as a surveyor building the Autobahn in German-occupied Austria. Her pregnant mother followed him to Austria where Steiger was born in Linz at the end of March 1940. During the following years her mother travelled with her all over Germany to keep them save, from occupied Alsace to the Rhineland. Eventually the reunited family found a house in Cologne in 1945, where Steiger grew up. [2]

Her mother encouraged her as an adolescent to take up drawing. In 1957 during her final year of high school, Steiger saw a major exhibition on the life and work of German artist Paula Modersohn-Becker. The exhibition deeply impressed her and motivated her to apply for admission to art school. Her mother however insisted that she first pursued vocational training, so she would be able to earn a living. From 1957 to 1959 Steiger attended the School of Textile Design in Krefeld. Her graduation work won her the annual award from the Federal Association of German Industry. For the next eight years she sold her designs to textile industries in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria. With the job and a small scolarship she was able to pay for her own studies at the Painting Department of the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. After six years she obtained her Master's degree (Meisterschülerin) from Professor Ferdinand Macketanz in 1964.

At the academy, Steiger met her husband, visual artist Fritz Rahmann. Since they couldn't find an affordable home and workspace in Düsseldorf, they decided in 1964 to move to Friesland in the northern part of The Netherlands. They were familiar with the region through a sailing holiday some years before. They got acquainted quickly in the professional art circuit and participated in various exhibitions in galleries and museums in the region. In 1975 Steiger and Rahmann separated but their friendship and mutual professional support continued until his death in 2006.

In 1978 Steiger met her second partner Ruud van Ginkel, economist at a large steel company in the west of the Netherlands. She moved to live with him and they made many distant travels together. At the end of 1989 this relationship ended and Steiger settled down in Amsterdam.


Steiger graduated from the Dusseldorf Academy of Art with a series painted still-lifes of trash and litter. A subject that would recur more often in her oeuvre later on. Initially, she was driven by an aversion to the Wirtschaftswunder and the recovering upper middle class in West Germany. Her critical attitude towards consumer society in her work of the 60s shifted in the mid 70s to a systematic observation of common objects, like a glass, marbles or an egg. She wanted to become in harmony with the object. This led to extensive series of drawings. These were shown in several museums across The Netherlands.

In 1980, Wies Smals since 1975 director of art space ‘De Appel’ in Amsterdam invited Steiger to realise a project with them.[3] De Appel gave artists a chance that went beyond traditional categories in their work. For years Steiger had trained her artistic perception working on the same object for weeks inside her studio. She was ready to do the same in the open air. She had moved close to a small dune reserve, where she wanted to work with photography. She chose to take photographs because the camera-speed allowed her to stay in the concentrated moment of observation. Drawings of things she found in the dunes would become too much of an interpretation; she just wanted to record them.[4] Her project 'Found signs from a landscape' took 3 years. In this periode she made 35 walks in the reserve and photographed objects that drew her attention. In 1981 and 1982 she gave an interim report on her activities in the dunes. In the concluding exhibition she presented the photographs in strips, the order in accordance with the initial observation on the floor of a church in Amsterdam. A part of the work was later presented in the Municipal Museum Arnhem.

The cooperation with De Appel was important for the further recognition of her work. She was invited to teach at the Art Academy in Den Bosch and asked to make site-specific installations at Dutch and German artinitiatives.

Since 1988, several grants from the Dutch government supported Steiger’s development. [1]

From 1990 to 1995 she led 'Steiger 8 Multiples'. This platform for art objects in editions participated with sometimes more than 10 different artists in several art fairs in the Netherlands and Germany. For the final edition (1995) 9 artists filled an identical wooden box with their own multiples. This Box-project was acquired by Foundation SBK Amsterdam, an art rental and gallery for private homes and offices.

From 1997 to 2004 Steiger worked twice a year on the Greek island of Crete. In her basic seaside studio, series of paintings emerged again for the first time since her graduation in Düsseldorf. It were intuitively chosen floral ornaments with which she created spatial environments. She also realised a work consisting out of 30 small paintings of a daily observation of the sea.

In 2015 Museum Belvédère in the Netherlands organized a retrospective of her work. The show, a selection of 40 years of work, was called 'The Necessity of a Handstand'. This exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue with an introduction by Han Steenbruggen, director/curator of the museum and an essay by art historian Huub Mous.[2] Steenbruggen stressed in his preface that many of the works Steiger made in Friesland in the 1970s were still relevant. His selection out of 40 years of work showed a consistent oeuvre and an ever-renewing artistic endeavour. Unique in this for him was her wide variety of forms of expression. The medium was not a fixed given for her, but it presented itself while she was exploring the underlying theme of the work.[5] In his article, Mous defined her works in the context of international art movements and arttheory since 1960. He examined various themes that often recur in Steiger's work: interaction between the inner and outer space, coincidence and intuition; fear and shelter; trace and shadow; love and desire, consolation and healing. His final conclusion about her work was that one might say her oeuvre looked quite diverse - in terms of technique, (unconventional) materials, two- or three-dimensionality. But in retrospect her body of work turned out to be quite coherent in content due to the recurring themes and her ability to be compassionate with life and things itself.

Conceptual multi-media art

Steiger's collected work includes series of drawings, paintings, objects, (site-specific) installations, photographic works, books and multiples. The following selection out of 40 years of work gives an impression of her work and the wide range of interests that are reflected in it.

Daily Drawings

From 1973 to 1978, Steiger observed the same object such as the previously mentioned egg, every day for a long time. She made a daily drawing of it on A-4 format. She discovered while working this way, that subjective perception changes in the course of time, depending on your mental state. As a result, she thougt one could consider the drawings as wiktionary:psychogram|psychograms. [6]

Site specific installations

In 1982 fellow-artist Thom Puckey invited Steiger to make a work in his art initiative 'Art & Behavior' in Amsterdam. She found a little rag toy critter belonging to Puckey's son in the large room. She also found some loose parts from the wooden floor. She used the floorboards to form a shelter for the little animal. She called the work 'Ansehen'/'Behold'.

Work through Telepathy

1984 - 1989: During 5 years Steiger held 90 telepathic sessions in Holland with fellow-artist Karl Krüll in Germany. They only agreed the time of the session and the material that was going to be used on A4 paper. During the sessions Steiger executed drawings she completely didn’t understand. But the two works together sometimes showed a striking coherent result. The first presentation of the project was in Galerie Makkom in Amsterdam in 1989, the second in De Waag in Leiden in 1990.[7] 45 joint works are in the Museum of Contemporary Art Herne / Germany, 45 are in Steiger's collection.


The artist's book "About Including Love” was acquired by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1989. The book (68 x 68 cm) consists of 56 double pages. New images are achieved by swapping pages. Among other floral ornaments, Steiger applied drawings of structures of the white lily, a symbol of Holy Mary, in the book.


In 1991 by chance a green-coloured photocopy emerged on her printer of a black-and-white photograph by Man Ray. The image showed an upward looking eye with two glass teardrops underneath it. Steiger obtained green-coloured glass marbles and added some to the image in a small box. One hundred copies of "The Wallpaper Affair” found their way to private and public collections.

Material for installation

Between 1993 -1996 Steiger worked a lot with wax. “The 29 feet of the author” is the most exhibited work in the series. She multiplied her feet into 29 casts. First she showed the work with marbles, later with elm seeds, a ball or a child’s scooter, always depending on the conditions of the location.


From 1997-2004 Steiger painted twice a year in Crete. She made paintings of intuitively chosen plants and flowers in various large sizes on canvas with acrylic. She alternated the special structure of the plant with monochrome colour fields and made environments with the canvases. She considered the paintings healing ornaments for the soul, inspired by the so-called Bach flower remedies.

Photographic works

'Three Of Them': While walking through her studio in 2008 Steiger saw her shadow on the wall. The three enlarged photos she made are shadows of three different gestures. Depending on how you look at them you may as well see 3 images of animals.[8]


2012: During a walk in autumn, seeds of thistles stuck annoyingly to her clothes. This clinging motivated her to collect large quantities of them to make 3 objects. They were given the shape and size of a toddler, each in a different posture and were called 'I Am Loveable Too'. She also made a multiple with the thistles - a little sitting bear - titled 'Yours Forever'.

Computer prints

During the first lockdowns of the Corona pandemic in 2020, Steiger edited photos of her face with a mouth mask and published them almost daily on Facebook. Despite the lockdown, she thus was able to keep in touch with her audience. At the same time she presented a selection of these photos in a slideshow, titled 'CoronaCorona, Staying at Home', in the digital exhibition 'Corona in the City' of the Amsterdam Museum. On August 25, 2020 Dutch daily newspaper Het Parool published 30 photo's from the series in the column "The Collection". [9]

Work in public collections in the Netherlands

Amsterdam Museum, Amsterdam

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam

Museum Belvédère, Oranjewoud/Heerenveen

LAM (Lisser Art Museum), Lisse

Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

RABObank NL, Utrecht

Nederlandsche Bank, Amsterdam

KPN Artcollection, The Hague

The Netherlands Cultural Heritage Collection, Amersfoort

Exhibitions (selection)


2015 'The Necessity of a Handstand', a retrospective. Museum Belvédère, Heerenveen-Oranjewoud, The Netherlands

2015-2016 'Shameless' Breda / Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Multiples & Steiger 8 Multiples

1991-2015 Art Fair, Amsterdam / Art Frankfurt / Art Multiple Düsseldorf / Artbox Frankfurt / Edition Fils, Düsseldorf / Galerie Art Kitchen, Amsterdam / Nederlandsche Bank, Amsterdam

Telepathic work

1985-1989 Franekergruppe NL / Karl Krüll, Düsseldorf, Germany / De Waag, Leiden, the Netherlands / Raum 1, Düsseldorf Germany

Artist’s Books

1984-2007 Büro Berlin, Berlijn / Galerie Phoebus, Rotterdam / Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam / Stichting Makkom, Amsterdam

Installations & site specific objects

1978-2019 Art & Behavior, Amsterdam, Büro Berlin, Berlijn / Casa Dei Mezzo, Kreta / CBK Leiden / De Fabriek, Eindhoven / Galerie Art Kitchen, Amsterdam / Galerie Fiebig, Berlin / Galerie Gruppe Grün, Bremen / Galerie Monter, Düsseldorf / Galerie Phoebus, Rotterdam / Gemeentemuseum Arnhem / Kunsthalle Hamburg / Kunstrai 96 / Museum ’t Coopmanshûs, Franeker / Pictura, Dordrecht / Stadtmuseum Jena / Stichting De Appel, Amsterdam / Stichting Finisterre, Amsterdam / Stichting Makkom, Amsterdam / Willem Sandbergplein, Amsterdam.

Daily Drawings

1972-1984 Fries Museum, Leeuwarden / Galerie Corps de Garde, Groningen / Galerie De Kruijff, Groningen & Parijs, Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag / Het Kruithuis, Den Bosch

Artist's publications

2012: About those things, Yes! Publisher:

2012: The party of the trees. Publisher:

2012: Zeitwert, in collaboration with Belinda Lange. Publisher:

2013: Landleven, about my animals in Friesland. Publisher:


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Discover conceptual artist, painter, draftsman Silvia Steiger". Retrieved 2022-04-07.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Huub, Mous (2015). The Necessity of a Handstand (in English and Nederlands). The Netherlands: Museum Belvedere. pp. 37–60. ISBN 978-90-71139-23-9.
  3. Mechelen, van, Marga (2006). De Appel 1975 - 1983. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: De Appel. pp. 42, 328, 341, 408. ISBN 90 7350170 9.
  4. Perrée, Rob (1983). Gevonden tekens uit een landschap, bijdrage Van Objekt tot Subjekt (1st ed.). Amsterdam: Silvia Steiger.
  5. Steenbruggen, Han (2015). The Necessity of a Handstand. Oranjewoud/Heerenveen, the Netherlands: Museum Belvedere. p. 60. ISBN 978-90-71139-23-9.
  6. Steiger, Silvia (1978). "Werkverslag over de knikkers en het glas". Chrysallis 1 (ISBN 901002103 3): 59–71.
  7. Rietbergen, Adriënne (1990). Analogie, Silvia Steiger en Karl Krüll (1st ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: De Waag. pp. 10–11.
  8. "MB Magazine Museum Belvédère". December 2015. p. 25.
  9. "De Verzameling". Het Parool. August 25, 2020. p. 20.

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