SAUL
STEINBERG

"Every creature has an inherent right not to be completely understood. That is the basis of its freedom."

voor_de-schoorsteen
Saul Steinberg, 1947

One-man exhibitions:

1968
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
Irving Galleries, Milwaukee
Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark

1969
J.L. Hudson Gallery, Detroit
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York

1970
Felix Landau Gallery, Los Angeles

1971
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
Galerie Maeght, Paris and Zurich

1973
Galleria Galatea, Milan
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York

maeght1973
1973, medium: lithograph, signed and numbered in pencil, edition: 109/150,
paper size: 31" x 23"

1973-1974
National Collection of Fine Arts,
Smithsonian Institution,
Washington , D.C.


1974
Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston
Galerie Maeght, Paris

1974-1975
Traveling exhibition organized by Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart; Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover; Kulturhaus der Stadt Graz; Museum des 20 Jahrhunderts, Vienna)

1976
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York


1977
Galerie Maeght, Paris and Zurich


eetzaal
Mural for Skyline Dining Room, Terrace Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1947

In this respect, as in others we shall discuss later, Steinberg is a forerunner of Pop Art - though he transcends the limits of Pop, since he is above all an artist of the free imagination. From the faked official signatures and governmental seals in his drawings of the 1940s to the rubber stamps of his 1970s paintings ans assemblages, he has been telling his story in terms of impersonal and repeatable commonplaces, distorted, as in dreams, by exaggerations, displacements and wit. Impresario of Abstract Man, he stages him in a universe of accepted ideas that the suddenly strips of their acceptance; for example, his use of Uncle Sam. it is not surprising that a specialist in the riddles of identity - is this what the Sphinx stands for in Steinberg's recent paintings? - should be aware that autobiography is a species of fiction writing. Those who stive to lay bare the "facts" of their lives are victims of the delusions of the style called Realism. Steinberg's presence in his visual narrative is personified by a cast of invented characters who serve as his disguises: the little man in profile (the citizen, more or less Solid), the cat (the little man with a tailand whiskers), the dog (a more dignified cat), the fish (Sphinx to the cat), the artist (the hand with the pen, the little man with an easel), the hero (a knight on horseback).

detail_rodozachari1981
Rodozachari Table, (detail) 1981

These personae perform in varieties of domestic and comic-strip situations, from watching TV and srcutinizing pictures in art galleries to marching in formation on mathematical moonscapes. Instead of presenting himself as protagonist, Steinberg projects an alter ego who is detached, curious, passive and fearful-one of his most memorable trademarks is the gentleman inslede of whose head is a rabbit peering out of man's eyes, a frightened creature, both trapped and protected (The Rabbit). Accessible only through his methapors, Steinberg becomes "someone" in his demonstrations of how his anonymous inner being is constantly re-presenting itself. To investigate individual identity in terms of its of its social reality is to function in the realm of farce. Comedy is what makes Steinberg immediately attractive, and it is the basis of his popularity. His narrative art looks back to Molière, at the same time that it takes its place with the absurdist literature of this century.


The restrictions of the line drawing have not prevented Steinberg from being the peer of Pirandello, Beckett, Ionesco. To a style founded on the drawings of children, he has added the dimension of playful juggling with the gravest issues of art and self. The artist tells his story of "becoming someone else" through pictures that suggest possibilities rather than recount facts. In Hotel Plaka, (see picture below) two conversational balloons are erotically intertwined on a bed covered with a massive comforter. Steinberg narrates but he does not reveal: in the Hotel Plaka bedroom two voices met; that's all you'll ever know. Steinberg has said that at the age of ten he decided to become a novelist but that he has still not made up his mind about what to be. The advantage of being a borderline artist is that it allows the decision to be put off indefinitely. With his name multiplied in every big-city telephone book, Steinberg can come close to anonymity without effort. In an apartment house in New York where Steinberg lived, there were two Steinbergs on the same floor-and in East Hampton where he has a house there is another Saul Steinberg.

Hotel Plaka, a hotel in Athens. This is part of a series of erotic drawings - a parody of pornography, showing how conventionally we are exploited by eroticism. Here the eroticism is represented only by the location: a bedroom in a hotel, the most banal setting for eroticism. Love here is a dialogue in bed; two balloons merge

hotel_plaka
Hotel Plaka, 1961

The absence of an identity of one's own can become oppressive, as Willie Sutton discovered when he lived incognito in Brooklyn. A few years ago Steinberg lost his patience and telephoned his East Hampton namesake.

"Is this Saul Steinberg?" he inquired.
"Yes" was the answer.
"But are you the real Saul Steinberg?"
"No," replied the poor fellow.
"Are you sure?"

Yet, knowing and not knowing who he is, the artist can "express himself" as if he were somebody. In his drawings Steinberg records everythingabout himself but without providing information - exept what he has been making up. His art is the public disclosure of a man determined to keep his life a secret. Steinberg's adventures in disguise begin with his birth in Romania, wich he has dubbed "a masquerade country." The moment he opened his eyes he was convinced that his operetta environment, with its costumed peasants and mustachioed cavalrymen, was calculated to trick him. His defense was to learn without delay how to render himself invisible by blending into his surroundings. But Romania was ready for him:

"At school I had a military uniform and a number like a license plate, so anybody could take my number and denounce me."


At eighteen, Steinberg left for Italy, a country not without its own operatic delusions, especially during the reign of Mussolini, when businessmen paraded after hours in black shirts and spurred boots and Il Duce harangued mobs from balconies. For the next six years, dividing his time between studying architecture (reflected in the ornate bridges and skyscrapers, styled interiors, Utopian city layouts and ornamental cloud formations that provide exotic elements in his drawings) and making cartoons for Milanese periodicals, he adopted the look - spectacles, long hair and bushy mustache - of the typical professional - school student.

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rodozachari_table_1981