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Indepth Arts News:

"Remembering Saul Steinberg"
1999-09-24 until 1999-11-28
Houston, TX, USA United States of America

This fall The Menil Collection honors “the most original man of his time,” as The New Yorker recently eulogized Saul Steinberg, the self-described “brooding doodler” who helped define the essence of that magazine for half a century. Elevating comic illustration to fine art and winning comparisons to artists such as Pablo Picasso and James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp and Charles Chaplin, Steinberg was, as the art critic Harold Rosenberg once described him, “a writer of pictures, an architect of speech and sounds, a draftsman of philosophical reflections . . . a virtuoso of exchanges of identity.”

Exhibition curator Walter Hopps was already at work selecting some twenty drawings for a Steinberg show when the artist died last May at the age of 84. “Steinberg was not just a cartoonist,” says Hopps, “but the wittiest member of the New York School — which is how we remember him at The Menil Collection.” The artist also was a favorite of Dominique and John de Menil, who began buying Steinberg drawings in the 1960s. Most of the works in the exhibition, spanning Steinberg’s career from the 1950s to the 1990s, are from Menil holdings.

“He was a man of genius,” wrote Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker remembrance, “in the simple sense that his perceptions were not remotely like anyone else’s.” That genius will bring smiles and nods of recognition to museum visitors familiar with Steinberg’s world, in all its precise, fine-lined peculiarity — a world of words and pictures that is at once Cubist, rococo, expressionist, Gothic, pointillist, and primitivist.

Born in Romania, Steinberg became a lifelong New Yorker after arriving at Ellis Island in 1941 (the year he sold his first drawing to The New Yorker). During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services sent him back to Europe to draw anti-Nazi cartoons (some picturing Hitler and Mussolini as evil buffoons), which were dropped behind enemy lines. Upon his return to New York in 1946, Steinberg received his first major recognition as an artist when his work was included in “Fourteen Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art. Though he traveled widely and enthusiastically, no place inspired him more than New York; the city and its landmarks and denizens are unmistakable in Steinberg’s world, from the Statue of Liberty to Times Square to taxicab drivers. “Leaving us,” as Gopnik concluded in The New Yorker, “he takes a world away.”

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