Adam Baumgold Gallery presents an exhibition of 40 works by Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), one of the 20th century's most enigmatic and inventive artists. The exhibition will include several emblematic works from Steinberg's retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1978, and from Steinberg Illuminations, at the Morgan Library & Museum in 2006. There will be many early drawings, works on paper, mixed media constructions from the 1950s and 1960s that were reproduced in the Steinberg books All in Line, The Art of Living, The Passport, The Labyrinth, The New World, Le Masque, and The Inspector, as well as The New Yorker Magazine.
Featured in the exhibition is Saul Steinberg’s drawing Dancing Couple, 1965, in which a precisely rendered man dances with a comic, stick figure woman. In the early, masterful drawing Drugstore, 1946, (reproduced in The Art of Living) Steinberg shows a slice of old New York, with a crowded luncheonette counter and a pharmacy teeming with activity, in a dazzling perspectival display.
Saul Steinberg’s oversized La Vie d’Artiste, 1970, is a compendium of colorful, imagined vistas and fake documents, loosely autobiographical in nature. Several related colored postcard landscapes will be exhibited: Mombasa, 1969, and Four Sunsets, 1971, as well as The Declaration of Independence, 1974, and Document, c.1959, invented “document” drawings filled with artist-made rubber stamps and seals, and imaginary calligraphy.
In the pair of drawings Spiral I and Spiral II (1961), Steinberg examines the relationship between conceptual and illusionistic art. In Spiral I the line of a landscape extends into a giant spiral ending at the tip of the pen of an artist who stands in the center of his own creation. In Spiral II, a small figure marches down a completed spiral and out into a drawn landscape.
Two of the artist’s mixed media “table” sculptures, Venice Table, 1979 and Cairo Table, 1981, incorporate “eye-fooling fakes” of his drawing tools—a box of whittled wooden pencils, a paintbrush—as well as imagined odds and ends of his desk: a slice of cucumber, an old photograph, a postcard, etc. Harold Rosenberg describes this series of work as “fabrication that stands for him but also hides him. The Tables continue his autobiography in personal terms that betray no secrets.” 1
Double Still Life, 1981, the cover drawing for Steinberg’s exhibition Still Life and Architecture, is populated with some of the artist’s prized objects: a Delft vase, toy tin alligator, Japanese postcard, a studio clock, etc. Tacked to the wall above these items is a drawing within this drawing, containing a cryptic visual puzzle of interwoven symbols—pen and inkwell, decanter, loaf of bread with knife, and a burning candle.
In Saul Steinberg’s drawing Allegory, 1963, exhibited in the Whitney and Morgan retrospectives, “virtually every detail invites one-to-one symbolic translation and gendering a sense of familiarity that feels like understanding. A stork is birth; a skeleton death; Uncle Sam climbing Jacob’s ladder is some kind of progress. Art finds her ideal subject in the mirror, while Reason (a Pythagorean diagram) is caressed by voluptuous Beauty…”2 Any connection among the symbols of Allegory becomes illusory. Steinberg said of his art, “what I am playing with is the voyage between perception and understanding.”3