Beyond The New Yorker: Saul Steinberg’s Other Magazine Commissions
Melissa Renn, Harvard Business School
While Saul Steinberg’s drawings for The New Yorker are well known, his commissions for other magazines in the 1940s, 50s and 60s—including Life, Look, Time, Sports Illustrated, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Fortune, Flair and Mademoiselle—have been understudied and many of them are not known at all. Commissioned to accompany stories on a wide array of subjects, from baseball and horseracing to radio, opera, and business, these projects offered an opportunity for Steinberg to explore the possibilities of color, collage, and photography without the restrictions of the three-column, black-and-white format of The New Yorker. This talk will show how, for Steinberg, the magazine page was a site for experimentation, a place to explore hybrid forms, mixed-media, and collage, as well as new reproduction technologies. It also will examine Steinberg’s collaborations with editors, designers, writers, and photographers at a diverse range of publications, and the networks behind these corporate commissions. These magazine commissions not only challenge traditional accounts of art production and patronage in the United States, but also defy easy categorization. Like much of Steinberg’s art, these works offer a powerful case study of the messiness of modernism. Indeed, as Steinberg said, “I don’t quite belong to the art, cartoon or magazine world, so the art world doesn’t quite know where to place me.”
Melissa Renn is Collections Manager, HBS Art and Artifacts Collection, Harvard Business School. She has published on American art from the 18th to the 20th century, and is co-author, with Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., of American Paintings at Harvard, Volume I (2014). Her essay, “The Americans Abroad: Situating Saul Steinberg’s Mural for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair,” was included in the 2013 exhibition catalogue, Saul Steinberg: The Americans. She has written on Life magazine, including, “The Picture Magazine: Life and the Limits of Photography” in Ludmilla Jordanova and Florence Grant (eds), Writing Visual Histories (2020); “Time, Life, and the Flag Raisings on Iwo Jima,” in Breanne Robertson (ed.), Investigating Iwo: The Flag Raisings in Myth, Memory, and Esprit de Corps (2019); “Life’s Pioneer Painters: Dorothy Seiberling and American Art in Life Magazine, 1949−1968,” in Rachel Esner and Sandra Kisters (eds), The Mediatization of the Artist (2018); “Life in Color: Life Magazine and the Color Reproduction of Works of Art,” in Regina Lee Blaszczyk and Uwe Spiekermann (eds), Bright Modernity: Color, Commerce, and Consumer Culture (2017); and “Within Their Walls: Life Magazine’s Illuminations,” in the Archives of American Art Journal (2014). Renn is co-editor, with Monica E. Jovanovich, of Corporate Patronage of Art and Architecture in the United States, from the Late 19th Century to the Present (2019).