by Mark Pascale and Chris Ware. The Art Institute of Chicago, dist. by Yale University Press, May 2017. 72 p. ill. ISBN 9780300226362 (h/c), $18.95.
Reviewed September 2017
Along the Lines: Selected Drawings by Saul Steinberg is the result of the exhibition of the same name at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017 and offers a comprehensive survey of the artist’s diverse output. It contains sixty works by Steinberg, from the 1940s to the 1980s, intended for commercial use, reproductions, or as singular works of art. Two essays provide a testament to Steinberg’s genius and give valuable insight to his portraits, landscapes, and psyche.
Though Steinberg is best known for his many New Yorker drawings and covers, the works presented here resist the label of cartooning. He fills thought balloons with non sequiturs or gibberish, and incorporates graphic text to harmonize the drawing as a poetic whole. Steinberg’s wit, critical insight, and range of media place him among the modernists he would jocularly reference. Describing himself as “a writer who draws,” Steinberg regarded the commentaries he made upon his adopted homeland as an expansive vocabulary showcasing the richness a pluralistic society. Indeed, the editors at the New Yorker even petitioned the United States government to grant a visa to a man who they described as a potential major artist.
The introductory essay by curator Mark Pascale explores the technical evolution of the artist. He notes where Steinberg fuses traditional drawing media with collage and even office supplies – using rubber stamps to realize lines, insert playfulness, and subvert expectations. Pascale articulates his appreciation of Steinberg as an artist focused on interior worlds and convincingly presents Steinberg as an astute student of the human psyche.
Comic artist Chris Ware’s essay reflects on Steinberg’s impact on Ware’s own life. He tackles the thorny issue of labeling Steinberg a cartoonist, discussing the architecture in Steinberg’s prints, and deconstructing gags and elements of individual works. Ware’s essay is a fresh, personal perspective that promotes the idea that Steinberg produced art that informed his own thinking, instead of the other way around.
Nearly every piece is given a full page for readers to examine, and a complete checklist is provided. The diversity of works constitutes a mini-retrospective of Steinberg’s oeuvre, starting with early pieces from when he was a Romanian emigrant, to when he became a successful and celebrated New York artist.
Art historians, comics-scholars, and even non-specialists will appreciate the extensive scope and careful selection of the pieces that Along the Lines contains. The essays are enjoyable discussions that situate Steinberg as a true modernist and add value to the already-excellent plates. Along the Lines offers a valuable voice to art libraries that collect materials on modernism, mixed media, satire, and commercial works.