POUGHKEEPSIE, NY.- An artist whose magic lit up the pages and covers of The New Yorker magazine for six decades is the subject of the major new retrospective exhibition Saul Steinberg: Illuminations, organized by the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. The exhibition is the first full-scale review of Steinberg's career, spanning the 1930s to the 1990s.
While Steinberg is best known for his work in The New Yorker, the exhibition also brings to light the prolific and diverse activity for which Steinberg was celebrated from the time he arrived in New York in 1942. It features more than one hundred drawings, collages, and sculptural assemblages by the artist whom many regard as not only a comic genius but among the greatest draftsmen of the modern era.
Saul Steinberg: Illuminations has received wide praise during its national tour, which began in December 2006 and will have its final showing November 2, 2007-February 24, 2008 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. [Earlier, the exhibition was seen at the Morgan Library and Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.]
"Is there any subject or object, for that matter that Saul Steinberg didn't have at with his sword-like pen?," wrote Grace Glueck in the New York Times. "The flow of his output amazes in "Saul Steinberg: Illuminations."
Added Karen Wilkin of the Wall Street Journal, "Thanks to a wonderful selection that includes not only a wide range of drawings, but also mural projects, constructions, and inventive paper-bag masks, those who associate Steinberg mainly with The New Yorker covers will discover a more complex artist."
Having studied architecture in Milan, where he gained early fame as a cartoonist, in America, Steinberg (19141999) became a propagandist, illustrator, fabric and card designer, muralist, fashion and advertising artist, stage designer, and tireless creator of image-jammed books. Until his decision in the 1960s to concentrate his efforts on gallery art and The New Yorker, Steinbergs sleek, barbed, inventive line was seen -- and mimicked -- everywhere from highbrow journals to Christmas cards, disseminating the look of modernism to a popular atomic-age audience.
The exhibition features rarely seen works from the collections of private lenders and The Saul Steinberg Foundation. According to curator Joel Smith, author of the 2005 book Steinberg at the New Yorker (Abrams), Saul Steinbergs last American museum retrospective, in 1978, reflected the priorities of a living artist who wanted to be sure the public saw his career as that of a focused, museum-worthy artist. Today, what is most fascinating about Steinbergs art is the vast range he commanded, from High to Low, from murals to magazines, from caricature to cartography. To look at Steinbergs career in its full duration, depth, and variety is to catch a close-up view of the energies and contradictions of the twentieth century. You might also find yourself smiling a lot.
Consider the work Techniques at a Party (1953) as a demonstration of both Steinberg's artistic mastery and range. In this work of ink, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper, Steinberg depicts each partygoer in a different drawing style -- be it pointillist, crosshatched, shaded, gestural, or outlined -- to effectively define the character of that individual. "He conflates theme and style into one drawing and exemplifies his love for the meta-narrative," observed Mary-Kay Lombino, the Emily Hargroves Fisher 57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. "The drawing humorously suggests that if these styles were to meet over cocktails, their differences would be no less apparent than those of the typical guests that often find themselves at such social gatherings. The personification of various techniques is an example of one of Steinbergs common devices -- illuminating the artifice in art."
The catalogue for Saul Steinberg: Illuminations, published by Yale University Press, features an introduction by poet and critic Charles Simic and an essay, chronology, and object entries by curator Joel Smith. The volumes more than three hundred illustrations include color plates of works in the exhibition and many sketches, never before seen, from the Saul Steinberg Papers at Yale University.
Saul Steinberg: Illuminations is supported by a grant from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. Opening reception (free and open to the public) - Friday, November 2, 5:00 p.m. at Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.