Today is the birthday (1914) of Saul Steinberg, a Romanian-born, U.S. artist, cartoonist and illustrator, best known for his work for The New Yorker, most notably “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” He described himself as “a writer who draws.” Steinberg was born in Râmnicu Sărat in Romania. In 1932, he entered the University of Bucharest and in 1933, he enrolled at the Politecnico di Milano to study architecture. He received his degree in 1940. In 1936, he began contributing cartoons to the humor newspaper Bertoldo. Two years later, the anti-Semitic racial laws promulgated by the Fascist government forced him to start seeking refuge in another country.
In 1941, Steinberg went the Dominican Republic, where he spent a year awaiting a US visa. By then, his drawings had appeared in several US periodicals. His first contribution to The New Yorker was published in October 1941. Steinberg arrived in New York City in July 1942; within a few months he received a commission in the US Naval Reserve and was then seconded to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He worked for the Morale Operations division in China, North Africa, and Italy.
After World War II, Steinberg continued to publish drawings in The New Yorker and other periodicals, including Fortune, Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Harper’s Bazaar. At the same time, he embarked on an exhibition career in galleries and museums. In 1946, he was included in the critically acclaimed “Fourteen Americans” show at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, exhibiting along with Arshile Gorky, Isamu Noguchi, and Robert Motherwell, among others. Steinberg went on to have more than 80 one-artist shows in galleries and museums throughout the US, Europe, and South America. He was affiliated with the Betty Parsons and Sidney Janis galleries in New York and the Galerie Maeght in Paris. A dozen museums and institutions have in-depth collections of his work, and examples are included in the holdings of more than eighty other public collections.
Steinberg’s long, multifaceted career encompassed works in many media and appeared in different contexts. In addition to magazine publications and gallery art, he produced advertising art, photoworks, textiles, stage sets, and murals. Given this many-leveled output, his work is difficult to position within the canons of postwar art history. He himself defined the problem: “I don’t quite belong to the art, cartoon or magazine world, so the art world doesn’t quite know where to place me.”
“View of the World from 9th Avenue” is instantly recognizable to millions, and can be interpreted in numerous ways. On a specific level you can see it as how self-absorbed and self -centered West Side New Yorkers are. Looking west from 9th avenue things up close are in clear detail, but then once you hit the Hudson, it gets vague. “Jersey” is a little brown strip that lies across the Hudson, key towns in the US, such as Chicago and Las Vegas, are dotted around the rest of the US, which is the size of a city block (as are Canada to the north and Mexico to the south), and somewhere vaguely across the Pacific Ocean (which is only slightly wider than the Hudson) are China, Japan, and Russia. Certainly, West Siders are this self-absorbed, and Steinberg’s point is well taken. What needs to be remembered is that Steinberg’s understanding of people is perfectly generalizable. Just about everyone the world over, sees “the rest of the world” through the same lenses. This point can be illustrated (literally and figuratively), by his many imitators.
Steinberg sued the producers of Moscow on the Hudson for plagiarizing his work for the movie’s poster. It’s probably true that they were unaware that the work was copyrighted. By the time the movie was produced the work had filtered into popular consciousness – which, as an artist he should have taken as a compliment (although I am fully sympathetic with the need for artist’s to maintain copyrights).
We also need to remember that Steinberg did a mountain of other works, which are much less well known, but arresting in different ways. Here’s a small gallery:
I’ll go with a Romanian dish to celebrate Steinberg. Here’s drob de miel, a dish that is traditional at Easter in parts of Romania that resembles haggis in some ways, meat loaf in others. Its main ingredients are lamb’s entrails (same as haggis), which nowadays can be really hard to get in many countries. Livers and kidneys are not all that difficult to procure but heart and lungs will be more of a problem. It differs from haggis in numerous ways: it is baked, not boiled, it is wrapped in caul, not the sheep’s stomach, and the filler is bread, not oats. Also it has boiled eggs in the center.
Drob de Miel
500 gm/ 1 lb lamb’s offal
2 boiled eggs
2 raw eggs
1 slice of bread, dipped in milk
1 bunch spring onions, chopped fine
1 bunch parsley, chopped fine
1 bunch dill, chopped fine
1 tbsp sour cream
salt and pepper
1 lamb’s caul
vegetable oil for greasing
Simmer the offal in a large saucepan with plenty of water, skimming the scum that rises periodically. Drain the entrails, and when cool grind them using a mincer or food processor along with the slice of bread. Put the ground meat in a large mixing bowl and add the raw eggs, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Also add the dill, parsley and spring onion. Mix all the ingredients well with a wooden spoon.
Grease a loaf pan well. Thoroughly wash the lamb’s caul and lay it over the pan so that it lines it, and the edges lap evenly over the sides. Spoon in half the ground offal mix and spread it evenly. Place the boiled eggs in the middle, and spoon the rest of the mix over the top. Even it out, and pull the caul over the top so that the meat is in a tight package.
Bake at 190˚C/375˚F for 35 minutes. Let cool slightly in the tin on a wire rack, and then turn the drob out on a serving platter. Serve, cut into slices.