IU Eskenazi Museum of Art to Present Exhibition of Drawings by Saul Steinberg

Saul Steinberg (American, 1914–1999) brought a modernist aesthetic and cosmopolitan sophistication to his gallery art and commercial work—including eighty-five covers and more than twelve hundred internal drawings for The New Yorker magazine—endearing him to many artists, writers, and popular audiences of his era. In 1965, noted author Vladimir Nabokov wrote to the artist, calling his collection of drawings The New World a “magic ledger” that reflected Steinberg’s skill at combining a fantastic imagination with shrewd observation. As Steinberg said, “The purpose of drawing is to make people feel that there is something else beyond the perception. That is essentially what I am playing with—the voyage between perception and understanding.” A Romanian-born Jew who had escaped antisemitism in his homeland and Italy, Steinberg brought an outsider’s perspective to the people, places, and politics of postwar Europe and the United States. His witty—and often slightly satirical—studies manage to bring a smile to your face, while at the same time stimulating your mind.

Magic Ledger: The Drawings of Saul Steinberg opens at the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University (IU) on January 27, 2024, and closes on June 2, 2024. The exhibition includes forty-three unique works selected from the recent gift of sixty-five drawings, twenty-one prints, and an annotated catalogue from The Saul Steinberg Foundation and six works acquired by the museum in the 1970s. Magic Ledger will explore Steinberg’s travels, influences, and his diverse range of subjects and drawing techniques. Some of the drawings relate to his many magazine publications, others were included in his book compilations, but most are simply independent drawings of his favorite motifs, such as women in fancy hats, cowboys, cats, cars, soldiers, and architecture.

“Steinberg’s work is difficult to classify. His themes are universal, appealing to generations of viewers. His gentle humor is based not on silly sight gags or topical jokes, but in a deeply rooted understanding of the human condition and clever manipulation of his artistic medium,” said Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper at the Eskenazi Museum of Art.

Saul Steinberg (American, 1914–1999). View of the World from 9th Avenue, 1975. Watercolor, colored pencil, graphite, and black ink on paper, image: 29 9/16 × 19 3/8 in.; sheet: 30 1/8 × 20 1/4 in. Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 77.26.1.

Upon the artist’s 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 serves 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.

Of the exhibition, Patterson Sims, Managing Director of The Saul Steinberg Foundation commented, “The Saul Steinberg Foundation is deeply gratified that the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum has become a center for the appreciation and study of Saul Steinberg’s multifaceted art.”

The museum’s Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs features the Martha and David Moore Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Study, which includes high-resolution zoom cameras, offering unprecedented opportunities for students and the public to engage with original works of art, as well as access to the collection via distance learning technology.

David A. Brenneman, Wilma E. Kelley Director at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, said of the exhibition, “Saul Steinberg’s drawings embody a unique combination of wit and compelling visual narrative. The gifts from The Saul Steinberg Foundation have given us the opportunity to expand IU students’ understanding of this great artist’s work.”

Magic Ledger: The Drawings of Saul Steinberg is co-curated by Nan Brewer and Andrei Molotiu, senior lecturer in art history at IU, and is based on research conducted by students in the IU course “Curating Saul Steinberg: From the Pages of The New Yorker to the Gallery Wall” (A490/580): undergraduates Meredith Cox, Kristin Davis, Hope Gerber, Morgan Hardin, Erin Hardy, Shannon Hocker, Katama Murray, Cody Rosenberg, Sasha Sears, Samantha Stroud, and Allie Tucker and graduate students Natalie Beglin, Caitlyn Clark, Kerrigan Clark, and Katama Murray. The advice and expertise of Shelia Schwartz, Research & Archives Director at The Saul Steinberg Foundation, are also deeply appreciated.

The exhibition is generously supported by John and Rita Grunwald, Susan C. Thrasher, and The Greig Family Fund.

About the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art

Since its establishment in 1941, the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art has grown from a small university teaching collection into one of the most significant university art collections in the United States. A preeminent teaching museum on the Indiana University campus, its internationally acclaimed collection includes more than 45,000 objects representing nearly every art-producing culture throughout history from around the world.

The Eskenazi Museum of Art recently completed a $30 million renovation of its acclaimed I. M. Pei–designed building. The newly renovated museum is an enhanced teaching resource for Indiana University and southern Indiana. The museum is dedicated to engaging students, faculty, artists, scholars, alumni, and the wider public through the cultivation of new ideas and scholarship.

CONTACT: Mariah Keller, Director of Creative Services