Monday, December 17, 2012
Some of the characters in Saul Steinberg's Hieronymus Bosch-like nightmare vision of "Bleecker Steeet," New York City 1971, made a more composed and organized appearance in the artist's formal portrait of 20 Americans.
Here, they've been turned loose in an incoherent and dangerously unstable mass. Burnt out winos rub shoulders with gorgeous and well-to-do women, and a green-faced female nearly catches fire from the effects of a powerful psychedelic drug. This is not a society, or even a collection of unsorted types, but a combustible and dangerous mix of exaggerated individuality, with some among them wearing their violent impulses on the outside.
The police noisily dominate the center of the picture, the mounted cop accompanying the car with it's graphically depicted siren squawking to keep some semblance of order on Bleecker Street. But just below the horseback cop, a predatory crocodile prepares to devour its rat-like prey.
Steinberg was the great artist of the 20th century, so of course he bucked all the trends. He was fully modern, but never abstract, and always representational, so what we have here is Bleecker Street exactly as he saw it. I don't know that I've ever before encountered in a representational artist the total unification of the artist with the scene he's looking at, emphasizing the fact that we can never separate what's being viewed from the eye that views it, because they form an indissoluble unity.
Please mouse click on the image to make it large enough to see this work in detail.