A Second Look: Steinberg At The New Yorker

In the past week I’ve mentioned two New Yorker cartoon gods, Charles Addams and Edward Koren — here are a few thoughts on another: Saul Steinberg. I admit to not paying enough attention to Joel Smith’s Steinberg At The New Yorker when it came out in 2005. Perhaps, at the time, I was in the early stages of being Steinberged-out.  A traveling exhibit, Illuminations, followed on the heels of this book (I saw, but did not really see the show at the Morgan in Manhattan — it was too crowded; I was jostled every time I paused in front of a piece. I made a second pilgrimage when it traveled to Vassar College, a less crowded venue, far more condusive to examining and enjoying the work (on the back flap of Steinberg At The New Yorker, the author is noted as a curator at Vassar’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, where the exhibit was held). 

I left both exhibits feeling the opposite of how I felt seeing Steinberg’s big solo show at the Whitney in 1978.  In 1978 Steinberg, along with a handful of other New Yorker artists, owned the New Yorker cartoon world. I left the Whitney Steinberg exhibit feeling as if I was coming down from the mountaintop.  An inspiring day (followed by an inspiring intersection with the man himself).

Twenty-five years later, leaving the Vassar exhibit, a large fraction of the awe remained; the mathematical designs, the subject matter, his color pencil work; the way he drew colorful feathers on poultry, the way he used color as pulsating rays emanating from the emergency lights on police cars — all still caused a stir of appreciation.  But…seeing the work hanging on the gallery walls I was too aware of perfection, or my perception of Steinberg’s perfection. The perfection had worn me down.  The designs were too good, the work too beautiful, too creative. No particular piece in the exhibit disappointed, yet the show as a whole disappointed.

This afternoon, while standing in front of the Spill‘s cartoon library wall, I spotted Mr. Smith’s book and took it down. Why not give it another spin around the block. I opened to the back where each and every Steinberg New Yorker cover, from 1945- 2004, is laid out — there are nine to a page. The very first, in 1945 was followed nine years later in 1954.  I hadn’t remembered that — or had never processed it. Nine years between covers…hmmm, hard to believe.

Scanning the covers it dawned on me why I became burned out on the man’s art: I was reminded of a spur of the moment decision years ago while I was walking along 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan: I ducked into Tiffany’s (for the first and possibly last time) to explore the fleet of display cases filled with so many perfect jewels. Looking now at all of these Steinberg covers, encased in a way, I felt much like I felt following my brief tour of Tiffany’s —  I wanted to be back out in our imperfect world.

Going through the rest of the book was a better time. Seeing familiar covers reproduced full page was a treat. This is how to see them, full size, one cover at a time — as originally experienced when they appeared on the magazine. When the covers were doubled up, facing each other across the gutter, I again found the work too rich to enjoy. Oddly enough I don’t have this problem looking at several Addams covers in a row, such as found in The World Of Charles Addams, or a string of covers by various artists such as you find in The New Yorker 1950-1955 Album, or the  essential Complete Covers From The New Yorker: 1925 – 1989. 

Is Steinberg At The New Yorker an essential anthology? Yes, of course.  Besides seeing so many familiar Steinberg drawings, there were many unfamiliar. But again, I preferred a single scoop –seeing a little of the work at one sitting, rather than sitting down with a banana split (sorry about that). I particularly enjoyed Ian Frazier’s Introduction.

As always with every cartoonist mentioned here on the Spill, I encourage looking at the various anthologies that came out during the artist’s lifetime. Here are some favorite Steinberg anthologies, all easily found online.

For further immersion, don’t forget Deirdre Bair’s hefty Saul Steinberg: A Biography:

 

 

 

 

Steinberg’s 100th to be Celebrated at The New Yorker Festival

St.The 100th anniversary of Saul Steinberg’s birth (he was born June 15, 1914, and died May 12, 1999)  will be celebrated at the upcoming New Yorker Festival as well as other venues in and around New York (and later in the year, across the seas). Here’s the online notice on newyorker.com by Ian Frazier.

 

 

And here’s a link to the Steinberg Foundation site where you’ll find a complete calendar of centennial events.

 

 

Also: Don’t forget to check out Deirdre Bair’s  Saul Steinberg: A Biography. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2012)51i-vGpuQ0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Also of interest: The Saul Steinberg Foundation’s 93(!) page Corrections to the Biography.

Shanahan & Donnelly’s Online Cartoon Collection; Joe Farris Exhibition; Victoria Roberts Draws at NYC’s Strand Bookstore; Bruce Kaplan’s new show; Chast & Popeye; More Steinberg

 

From The Huffington Post, December 21, 2012,  this online only collection of cartoons by Danny Shanahan and Liza Donnelly for Moms Clean Air Force.

 

From CTpost. com, December 18, 2012, “New Yorker artist’s work on view in Bethel”

–This post on long time New Yorker contributor, Joe Farris

 

 

From the blog, East Village, December 19, 2012, “Victoria Roberts Sketches at The Strand”

 

From Deadline Hollywood, December 14, 2012, “HBO Orders Comedy Pilot From Bruce Eric Kaplan, Jason Reitman And Lorne Michaels”

 

From cartoonbrew, December 14, 2012, “Popeye Comics Get Cool” — ( with Roz Chast content).

 

 

 

 

 

MORE STEINBERG:

From The Stamford Advocate, December 20, 2012, “New Haven Biographer Examines Famed New Yorker Cartoonist” –This interview with Deirdre Bair, the author of Saul Steinberg: A Biography.

and:

From Pace University, this interview with Ms. Bair. “Prof. Denning Interviews Bestselling /Biographer Deidre Bair” (the interview must be downloaded).

and:

From The Observer, December 18, 2012, “The Life of The New Yorker’s Favorite Depressive is Drawn Out in New Bio”

 

 

 

 

 

Steinberg reviewed by Maslin, Mankoff, and Dumas; from the Ink Spill archive “On a Bench with Steinberg”

 

Janet Maslin (no relation) reviews Deirdre Bair’s  Saul Steinberg: A Biography  in today’s New York Times:

“No Reading Between the Lines”

 

In his weekly blog post, The New Yorker’s Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff looks at and shows us some of Steinberg’s work:

“Saul Steinberg, Gag Man”

 

A New Yorker cartoonist, Jerry Dumas, writing for the Greenwich Time, December 12, 2012, focuses on Debrah Solomon’s New York Times Book Review of November 25, 2012, specifically Soloman’s assertion that Steinberg was “…the pre-eminent cartoonist of the 20th century…”

“Most Agree, One Cartoonist was King”

 

Finally, if you’re in the mood for a little more Steinberg-related reading after reading the above reviews,  here’s something from Ink Spill’s archives:  A Posted Note I wrote in 2008:

On a Bench with Steinberg

In the fall of 1978 I was fresh out of college, living in a two room walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village just a few doors west of Ray’s Pizza. I’d recently moved to the city with the dream of becoming a New Yorker cartoonist. After receiving an avalanche of rejection slips my work was finally accepted, and by November of 1978 the magazine had published four of my cartoons.

My apartment was in a four story building loaded with talented neighbors: writers, an editor, a graphic designer, an artist, an historian. Among this crowd was the celebrated New Yorker writer, Donald Barthelme; he lived just below me, on the second floor. The day I moved into the building, Donald was the first person I ran into. At the time I’d no idea who he was, and that he wrote for The New Yorker ( my focus then was mainly on the magazine’s artists ). All I remember from our meeting was that Donald’s last name seemed oddly fascinating. Bar- thel – may – it rolled off the tongue.

On a Fall afternoon – I believe it was a Sunday – I was in my apartment when I heard Donald yelling up to me from the building’s courtyard. I raised one of the large old windows overlooking the garden below, stuck my head outside, and looked down. Donald was looking up. “Michael, Steinberg is coming over for dinner tonight – would you like to join us for drinks afterward?”

“Steinberg” was, of course, Saul Steinberg, the legendary New Yorker artist. A retrospective of his work had just completed its run at The Whitney Museum. In April of that year, he was the subject of a Time cover story – this was certainly one of, if not the most celebrated years of Steinberg’s career. He was now 65, into his thirty-seventh year at The New Yorker. The idea of meeting Steinberg was at once impossibly unsettling and electrifying. Although I’d been taking my weekly batch of cartoons to the magazine’s offices in mid-town for nearly a year, I’d never run into any of The New Yorker’s cartoonists: Steinberg would be my first.

Evening came, and from my apartment I could hear the sounds of dinner conversation in the courtyard. Eventually I made my way down to the garden apartment belonging to my ground floor neighbors, the Sales ( Faith, the editor, and Kirk, the historian and biographer).

Steinberg was out in the courtyard, sitting on a bench at an old wooden picnic table. Donald made the introductions, and directed me to sit next to Steinberg. Steinberg spoke “ with his hands” – a lot of arm movement, his hands fairly drawing in the air. It wasn’t difficult to imagine his drawings floating all around us, like bubbles.

After some time, he turned to me and asked what I did. I told him I was a cartoonist, for The New Yorker. “My latest drawing appears right before yours in this week’s issue.” (my drawing was on page 50, his illustration for The Sporting Scene was on page 51). Hearing this, he fell silent for a moment. I couldn’t tell if he was pleased, annoyed, or just didn’t care. It was, well, awkward.

Soon he was back to where he’d left off before speaking to me. He held the spotlight the rest of the evening. I admit I can’t recall a single thing he said that evening, other than his asking what I did. In truth, I don’t think anyone in his company really wanted to do anything but listen, and watch. Sitting to his side for those few hours, turned slightly to my right, seeing his profile, watching him draw in the air, was like watching the sun rise over and over and over again.

September 11, 2008