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A CITY ON PAPER: SAUL STEINBERG'S NEW YORK
DOCUMENTS ARTIST’S SIX-DECADE LOVE AFFAIR
WITH NEW YORK CITY
Exhibition Also Highlights Treasures From Museum’s Collection
More than forty drawings by artist Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), showing the range and originality of his vision of New York City, will be on view at the Museum of the City of New York from November 30, 2006 through March 25, 2007. A City on Paper: Saul Steinberg's New York places Steinberg’s work in dialogue with related objects from the Museum’s historic collections, highlighting the visual traditions upon which he drew. The exhibition coincides with Saul Steinberg: Illuminations, a full-scale retrospective on view at The Morgan Library & Museum.
Susan Henshaw Jones, President and Director of the Museum of the City of New York, remarked: “Countless artists have come to this city to reinvent themselves. But few have turned the tables and reinvented New York as often, or as unforgettably, as Saul Steinberg did. He was such an alert observer, and such a keen student of the city’s tangible past, that his drawings provide fascinating commentary on objects from our collection – and vice versa.”
The exhibition pits Steinberg’s powers of invention against an array of objects from the Museum's collection. Featured works include two early Currier and Ives lithographs of the Statue of Liberty — one celebratory, the other a gross caricature; a hand-colored 19th-century pictorial directory of the city's streets; an airplane passenger’s view of Rockefeller Center at Christmastime as rendered by Rea Irvin, The New Yorker’s first art editor, in the 1930s; and John Bachman's famous 1859 bird's-eye view of Manhattan, in which the island is made to look like the central and dominant continent on Earth.
Saul Steinberg was born in Romania in 1914 and studied architecture in Milan in the 1930s. He fled wartime Italy and arrived in Manhattan in 1942. His new hometown immediately assumed a prominent role in the wordless drawings he created for The New Yorker, which published over 1,000 of his works by the time of his death in 1999.
Steinberg’s work chronicles the ever-accelerating pace of New York’s street life. In the earliest drawing in the exhibition, published in 1944, a subway exit disgorges a line of citizens in lockstep. Rush Hour (circa 1969), rendered in rubber stamps, features dozens of identical commuters racing from a subway exit, into an office tower, out a side door, and back underground. Canal Street Station (1981) portrays a city under siege by gridlock, with traffic consuming every inch of pavement.
Steinberg was a one-man school of architectural caricature. In collages and drawings executed on photographs, he traced the origins of the Manhattan skyscraper to a variety of prototypes, including sheets of music paper and trash cans lined up along city curbs. In Kitchen Street (1950), a few strokes of the pen turn the artist’s refrigerator into a plugged-in Chrysler Building with ant-sized pedestrians scurrying at its feet. Besides the Chrysler – a frequent subject – Steinberg’s obsessions included the Statue of Liberty, street maps, and the upward and downward perspectives unique to life in a vertical city.
A City on Paper: Saul Steinberg's New York is co-curated by Thomas Mellins, the Museum of the City of New York Curator of Special Projects, and Joel Smith, Curator of Photographs at the Princeton University Art Museum.
A gallery talk, led by Mr. Smith and Mr. Mellins, will take place on Saturday, December 2, at 2:00 p.m.; this program is free with Museum admission.
Funding for A City on Paper: Saul Steinberg's New York is provided by the Charles River Fund, Melvin R. Seiden in honor of Rowan Richard Drant, Conde Nast, the Ferris Foundation, PaceWildenstein, and CDS Gallery.
The Museum of the City of New York presents and interprets the past, present, and future of New York City and celebrates its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. Founded in 1923 as a private, non-profit corporation, the Museum serves the people of New York and visitors from across the country and around the world through exhibitions, collections, publications, and school and public programs.