Friday, October 5, 2007
Seeing Steinberg in Cincinnati
With only a few days left in the Saul Steinberg show at the Cincinnati Art Museum, it was time for a road trip. I decided to head to Bloomington first, where I was met by Chet. I followed him to the disc golf course for a quick game of toss. As always, when we play we also brainstorm on our disc golf screenplay, which could be described in a Hollywood pitch as Caddyshack meets Slacker. A beauty of a day, we noticed wild flowers and snake doctors. Chet is a disc golf master ( I always learn from him) and I had probably the best putt of my life, a 20 foot chainspanker. We followed that up with dinner at Upland brewpub with some Bad Elmer and philosophy. I took a bag full of books to Caveat Emptor to trade and to engage in some bookgeek banter with the owner, discussing our favorite publishers, especially New Directions. I told him about a great new book culled from the archives of the founder of New Directions, James Laughlin. By the time I’d found a book to trade (Art & Outrage: A correspondence about Henry Miller) he had got online and ordered it (The Way It Wasn’t). Off to check out the Art Hospital where I got to hear a Belgian Waffles cover band and an amazing percussion group that never mentioned their name if they had one. Between bands there was some hanging out to be hung and oversize Red Stripe to guzzle and discussions involving the Plimsouls and Rubinoos. Later at the house of Chris & Seth, an Apple record of Hare Krishna chanting revolved me into a dreamstate and was replayed on the sliced side even louder in the morning. I dreamed of shrikes on the owlpillow. I went to get something out of my car and a psychedelically painted turtle snailed across the street. “Anybody lose a turtle?”…what?? I figured if anyone on this street had a painted turtle it would be someone in this house, but by the time we went back outside it was gone. Good thing I had proof in my camera phone but that kind of thing happens constantly in collegetowns. We had hot healing tea on the back porch by the squirrel tightrope. I half expected a trampoline to leap off the roof followed by the dayglo turtle, both appearing briefly before bouncing off into the woods together. I went to find breakfast and then ride my bike to the IU library to hand deliver the latest issue of pLopLop, surprising the librarians who never get hand deliveries. I recalled one of them as the former owner of another used bookstore in town, long gone. I made quick trips to the art museum to learn from the big Picasso and Stuart Davis paintings, then to the Lilly library, eavesdropping on a seminar by Canary, singing the praises of the archives. One of the best rare book collections in the world, certainly. Another beautiful day, time to hit the road again, cut across the state east through Brown county winding up in Greensburg. I spotted a Goodwill and entered for a quick browse. Found 8 canvasses worthy of redux and the obligatory hipster chick cashier cut me some slack on the price. By the time I made it to the Cincy art museum, I had about 2 and a half hours to absorb the Steinbergs. The mural was most impressive, the creation of which left Steinberg exhausted. I tried to find out if it would be displayed permanently somewhere, but couldn’t find anyone who claimed to know anything about its future. Dozens and dozens of drawings in pen & ink, graphite, crayon, colored pencil, rubber stamps and watercolors anchored the vast show. Steinberg was ingeniously inventive and playful---my absolute favorite was “Techniques at a Cocktail Party”, a meeting of characters drawn in a variety of styles---pointillist, cartoon, comic book, surreal, impressionist, etc---really THE Steinberg to see if you could show only one. Since some of these drawings were used as magazine illustrations, an added bonus for the completely curious spectator were the various markings, tags and stickers used by the printers for layout purposes, like so many bruises & tattoos of a workingman’s toil---instead of the spotless, clean, starched shirt appearance of most glass-encased museum quality works on paper. A few other drawings were “imperfect”---visible folds, tears, stains and creases were proof that their author had no idea that one day they would show up on the walls of a national museum tour. Another section of rough material---this time the brown paper of liquor store bags----displayed an additional fun, playful element of Steinberg’ art---his masks. I was thrilled to see examples of these visages---I have a book of photos of his friends wearing them at parties. Unfortunately, the smallest of these masks---one made especially to fit over his nose----wasn’t represented. During my visit, the guards outnumbered the visitors but I hope that wasn’t the case for the majority of this great show’s run. I checked out other parts of the Cincy museum to let the Steinberg soak in, and it is a solid collection, anchored by the strength of a 30 foot long Miro mural. I almost passed by a gem of a show, a few early works by 2 Cincinnati based graphic artists, called "Minimal Realism: Charley and Edie Harper, 1940–1960", it runs until October 21. Although I don’t recall it being mentioned, there is a massive monograph on Charley which I discovered via a review while flipping through a recent issue of Readymade magazine: http://www.ammobooks.com/books/harper01/books_harper01.html. I dashed back upstairs after the Harper discovery for one last quick run-through of the Steinbergs. The guards politely informed me of the museum’s closure in 10 minutes. I left 9 minutes later and decided to drive up to the top of Mt. Adams, for a great view of the Ohio river, the city we call Cincy and its interstate highway system, which appeared to be fairly unjammed for 5pm. So I coasted back down the mountain and onto I-74 West, toward home where my own shoeboxes of pens, pencils, crayons, gluestick awaited.