Exhibition / Museum
Entre les lignes29 Sep 2021 - 28 Feb 2022
Art Viewers (détail), 1966 Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris. Don de la Saul Steinberg Foundation, New York © The Saul Steinberg Foundation / Adagp, Paris 2021.
Bringing together more than eighty works on a variety of media (assemblages, drawings, objects, books, photographs), "Between the Lines" sets out to immerse us in the world of Saul Steinberg (1914-1999). Thanks to the generosity of the Saul Steinberg Foundation, the Centre Pompidou currently houses an exceptional ensemble of works by the American artist: in addition to the thirty-six donations to the American Friends of the Centre Pompidou presented to the museum in 2017, this year has seen the arrival of a monumental creation entitled The Art Viewers (1966) – a rare testimony to Steinberg's muralist activity.
This gigantic assemblage has previously been exhibited to the public for only a few weeks, in the Maeght gallery for which it was designed. Proposing a sort of virtual sequel to the exhibition of his works, it provides a synthesis of Saul Steinberg's thinking, both on the modernist heritage and on the social reality of art. Moreover, The Art Viewers invites us to reconsider the relationships between the work and the spectator, the creator and the creation.
Prestigious external loans, including several works never previously exhibited, complete the two donations presented for the first time in their entirety. The tour of the exhibition progressively explores the artist’s use of symbol writing, his very personal conception of reportage and press drawings, his interest in fakes and imitations, and his musings on identity through the theme of the mask, before finally questioning the autobiographical nature of his work.
Contemplating Saul Steinberg's work produces an irresistible urge to immerse oneself in the cultural history of the 20th century. The artist rubbed shoulders with Picasso, the New York action painters, and was one of the pioneers of American Pop Art. Steinberg’s innovations included embracing new media to liberate drawing from the confines of a sheet of paper. He used photographic resources with the help of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Inge Morath, and collaborated with designers like Charles and Ray Eames, and filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock. Equally at home in the worlds of the fine arts and press drawings, his unclassifiable work very quickly attracted the attention of the greatest art historians and critics of his time, from Ernst Gombrich to Harold Rosenberg. A voracious reader, Steinberg forged friendships with several avant-garde writers such as Italo Calvino, Eugène Ionesco and John Updike, who in turn became followers of his work. He remains an iconic reference for several generations of cartoonists.
From his training as an architect, Steinberg retained a pronounced taste for geometric forms and urban views, but it was in his press drawings (from Bertoldo, the satirical review, to his long-standing collaboration with The New Yorker) that the artist forged his immediately recognisable style through which, in the guise of a poetic lightness, he questions customs and habits. Forced into exile on several occasions by the rise of fascism, Saul Steinberg retained the detached curiosity of the foreigner for his host country. The perspicacity of his drawings, encapsulating his amused and sometimes caustic perceptions, was such that they ended up embodying the imagery of 20th-century American society. Steinberg – a polyglot by force of circumstances and immersed in the written word – managed to break free from linguistic conventions and create his own form of personal “writing”, both literally and figuratively.