Titled The Nose, this lithograph is from artwork by Saul Steinberg on cut and torn kraft paper (and then collaged on paper). An exhibition poster, it advertises the 1969 Spoleto Festival in Italy.
Born in Romania, Steinberg (1914-1999) was an American artist, illustrator and cartoonist famous for his many cartoons and numerous covers for The New Yorker, most notably his "View of the World From 9th Avenue." Fans of his will immediately recognize this poster as having been done by Steinberg, as his style is quite distinctive.
In the early 1960s Steinberg became interested in the idea that we all wear a mask or disguise of some sort as a protection against being revealed for who we are. With this idea, he began creating masks out of brown paper bags, a project which became well-known through a series of photographs of his friends and family wearing these bags, with fanciful faces drawn by Steinberg covering the wearers’ actual faces.
This mask theme was carried over into the artwork for this Spoleto Festival poster. The Steinberg-esque figure, in profile on crumpled brown kraft paper, is shown holding part of his face -- his nose, ear, eye and forehead -- in his left hand apart from the rest of his face, as though it is a mask he has taken off. As a cartoon drawing, this image is quite amusing, albeit curious. The deeper observation that we all wear masks is more thought provoking.
What is particularly interesting about this lithograph is that the Spoleto Festival is famous for its performing arts productions, and the use of a mask or disguise as donned by thespians has been incorporated into theater productions for centuries. Shakespeare often used masks and disguises in his plays.
This rare, first edition stone lithograph is included in the permanent collection of MOMA and deserves a prominent place in your collection. If you collect Steinberg art, it will be an especially meaningful acquisition.