Steinberg in Barcelona

One day I visited the A|34 gallery (in Aribau 24 street, Barcelona) as Media Vaca’s assistant and María Schjaer asked me if I was Begoña and Vicente’s daughter. She was very surprised when I answered that I was not and that they do not have children. However, I carefully explained that both Vicente and Begoña are tireless and ‘adopt’ all of us as their children: readers, illustrators, writers and all of those who turn Media Vaca’s dream into a reality. María is a charming lady who works at the A|34 gallery and is one of those responsible for Saul Steinberg’s exhibition coming to Barcelona, which was inaugurated last 17 November 2011 and has been extended until 28 January 2012. Media Vaca has been tirelessly working for several years on two titles by Steinberg, which we will be able to fit onto our bookshelves in a few months’ time.

Last November a multitude of spectators came to the A|34 gallery, ready to experience the paranormal reactions that the works of this refined gentleman provoke in people like you and me. It was strangely magical to feel the positive energy that filled the atmosphere for two and a half hours, and even more so to see the smiles on people’s faces as they contemplated the author’s works.

The gallery exhibits original drawings which represent the most popular of his works, but also a small part of his more unknown works. Before entering, from the window display, we are captivated by a collection of covers for The New Yorker, the magazine in which Steinberg consolidated his own unmistakable graphic language. He became widely known through these covers and the drawings that began to appear in various books such as All in Line, The Art of Living, The Labyrinth or The Passport. Inside a display cabinet we can please our eyes with several publications of ST’s, such as a recent pop-up book that reproduces his famous drawing ‘the line’ or the book that recounts his travels to Brazil titled As aventuras da linha. We can also appreciate two enormous sketchbooks that illustrate a set of works produced in ink.

The exhibition also offers a small selection of works that showcase the author’s characteristic humorous and satirical streak. Images that idolise women, which clearly show who is the winner of the fight between sexes, or images that illustrate highly stylised urban scenes. The simple strokes, the geometric shapes, the use of letters and false writings, drawing by means of stamps and tampons, give his pieces a unique and unmistakable style.

Someone said that Steinberg, pencil in hand, was becoming a humourous portraitist of society. He thought and drew with his pencil, and as much as he intended to be ironic, he always conveyed an affectionate side to the spectator. There is a mixture of feelings when contemplating his work: an irony followed by a kind tone, perhaps due to his trace, his expressiveness, or both. But this is only the opinion of someone who cannot even remember when they first heard of Steinberg, but who remembers very well his small beings: the objects, the animals and the little men who chase after women with such an arrogant air that it made me smile.

Therefore, for readers and people who do not know Steinberg, or have never seen his works in person, this exhibition is a wonderful opportunity. Highly recommended!

Carolina Celas

Image: poster announcing the ST exhibition at the A|34 gallery.
Saul Steinberg, Sidney Janis Gallery, 1969. Ink, pencil, acrylic, and stamps on paper, 58,5 x 74 cm.
© The Saul Steinberg Foundation; ARS, New York; Vegap, Madrid, 2011