National Book Award winner Bair (Calling It Quits: Late-Life Divorce and Starting Over, 2007, etc.) exhaustively explores everything related to Steinberg.
It is well into the book before the author digs deeply into the thoughts behind his art. Born in Romania and educated in Milan, Steinberg was an extremely private man who was terrified of exposing himself by discussing his work, but he had an extremely active social life and a desperate need to seduce any woman who took his fancy. His wife, the artist Hedda Sterne, as well as his lovers, let him get away with it. Perhaps his generosity assuaged their furor. Like so many artists of that age, he seemed to be able to escape to rest his mind for large parts of the year. Bair chronicles all of Steinberg’s trips, noting every flight, sailing, hotel, train and bus ride. His dealings with galleries are interesting; travel plans and his digestion are not. Steinberg produced a wide array of work, from cartoons, books, murals, stage sets, fabric designs and even greeting cards. Call to mind View of the World from 9th Avenue, which appeared on the cover of the New Yorker in 1976, and you’ll see how his mind allowed him to lead us through his free-association world. His works with “5” and “E” are masterpieces of wordless comedy, and his images were so intense that words were never needed. Bair’s book, though overlong, will help readers understand the breadth of Steinberg’s talents.
Followers of the postwar art world will love this book but may be disappointed by the lack of examples of his work.