The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University has received a major gift of 65 drawings by the world-renowned artist Saul Steinberg (1914–1999) from the New York City–based Saul Steinberg Foundation. The broad selection includes works ranging in date from 1944 to 1990, representing a survey of one of the most respected and beloved graphic artists of the twentieth century. These 65 works join six drawings already in the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection, including one of his most seminal works, View of the World from Ninth Avenue (1975), a brilliant perspective on New York City egoism and send-up of the American Midwest as flyover country.
Steinberg, who produced numerous drawings and covers for The New Yorker magazine, is widely recognized for his thought-provoking and often humorous depictions of life during the post–World War II era. In addition to drawings, Steinberg created paintings, collages, and sculptures that were shown in prominent galleries and exhibitions, including in Fourteen Americans at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1948.
Born in 1914 in Romania to a Jewish family, Steinberg was fascinated by the materials and tools used in his father’s printing and bookbinding business. In the late 1930s, he went on to study architecture in Italy and also began publishing anti-fascist cartoons in Italian humor magazines.
After fleeing Italy in 1941 to escape the country’s anti-Semitic policies, Steinberg arrived in 1942 in the United States, where his work was already known. He was drawn to the humor and special characteristics of American life as exemplified by urban and vernacular architecture, baseball, motels, diners, car culture, and traffic jams. Steinberg’s career in capturing the cultural pulse of his surroundings is difficult to categorize given his graphic virtuosity and to the many media in which he worked.
Upon his death in 1999, The Saul Steinberg Foundation was established in accordance with Steinberg’s will, which stipulated that his art should be used as a resource for both the scholarly community and the general public.
The Steinberg Foundation gift will serve as an important teaching resource at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, which has long had an active program in the study, exhibition, and publication of its prints, drawings, and photography holdings, which include more than 22,000 works. The Steinberg gifts will be a significant highlight of the museum’s new Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, located on the third floor of the east wing. An expanded study room with high-resolution zoom cameras will offer unprecedented opportunities for students and the public to engage with original works of art, as well as access via distance learning technology. The museum’s first gallery dedicated to the exhibition of works on paper will offer unprecedented opportunities for seeing and studying the collection. Major goals for the center include enhanced visibility, increased access, a more extensive research program, the development of the collection through strategic acquisitions, and a comprehensive collections care program.
“The breadth of the Saul Steinberg Foundation gift, including working drawings with variations on a theme, will enable students and scholars to explore the creative process of this remarkable artist, who as a commercial artist is often omitted from the art historical canon. Steinberg’s wit and skill as a draftsman make his work both timely and timeless,” said Nanette Esseck Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper at the Eskenazi Museum of Art.
David Brenneman, Wilma E. Kelley Director at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, said of the Steinberg acquisition, “We are very grateful to the Saul Steinberg Foundation for entrusting the museum with this incredible body of work. This in-depth holding of the work of one artist’s career creates an unprecedented opportunity at Indiana University for study and learning, and our new, expanded Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs will allow us to share the amazing work of Saul Steinberg with a wider university audience.”
“The Saul Steinberg Foundation was established by the artist in his will. Its mission is to facilitate the study and appreciation of Saul Steinberg’s contribution to twentieth-century art. Through the development of databases, an ambitious website, archives, exhibitions, and publications, the Foundation serves as a resource for the international curatorial-scholarly community as well as the general public. The Steinberg Foundation’s recent substantial gift of drawings to the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art is intended to establish an in-depth holding in the Midwest, along with the Steinberg works at the Art Institute of Chicago, of his art that builds on the excellent Steinberg works already in the museum’s collection. The museum‘s establishment of a drawing study room as part of its expansion and its close connection with the students, faculty, and the community of Indiana University were further impetuses for the breadth of the gift,” said Patterson Sims, Managing Director of the Saul Steinberg Foundation.