Best known for his barbed and brilliant art for The New Yorker, Saul Steinberg (1914–1999) did much more. He executed public murals, designed fabrics and stage sets, was an inventive collagist and printmaker, and turned his magic touch to the fields of painting, sculpture, advertising, and even wartime propaganda. This is the first comprehensive look at Steinberg’s extraordinary contribution to 20th-century art, which was that of a modern-day illuminator, putting word and image in play to create art that spoke to the eyes, and minds, of readers.
An introduction by poet Charles Simic tracks the origins of Steinberg’s darkly comic sensibility in the “Balkan bazaar” of his native Romania. Joel Smith shows how architectural training and an early rise to fame as a cartoonist in Fascist-era Milan honed the artist’s gift for subtle graphic invention, and explores why one of the most visible, prolific, potent, and cosmopolitan careers in postwar American art has so thoroughly evaded serious study. Tracing the evolving motives that underlie Steinberg’s multi-layered activity, this handsome volume also raises fundamental questions about the historiography of modernism and the vexed status of “the middlebrow avant-garde” in an age of museum-bound art.
Previously unseen sketches, documents, and printed matter from the artist’s papers illustrate the essay, career chronology, and entries for 120 objects featured in this important book.