Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: March 2nd

March 2, 2011

Today’s pick of the day is Lot 164 Saul Steinberg’s “Western Harpy.”  This work was featured in a 1967 Vogue magazine article on the artist (the framed article is included in the sale).

Working with ink and pastel on an ordinary paper bag, Steinberg demonstrates his mastery at creating vivid caricature out the humblest of materials.  The artist’s satirical target is the 1960s matron in all her tasteless glory.  Steinberg uses several devices to deflate her pretense.  Adorning the harpy’s face with delicate calligraphy, Steinberg lets “profound” language flow from the subject’s mouth, but on closer inspection the writing is gibberish.  In her mind she is charming, beguiling, and wise, but she is all frill, no meaning.

To further his theme of trivia masquerading as importance, Steinberg signs the piece not once–but twice.  Then not to be outdone, he first stamps it and then tops all this off with an official seal.  Throughout his body of work, Steinberg loves playing dress-up with stamps, signatures, and all things that say, “I am official, I am real.  Listen to me”—even when they’re applied to a crayoned trash bag.

For a time, Steinberg created cartoon-like figures on three-dimensional objects (as he once did for the Eames office) and his flair for comic book style is evidenced here.  The matron’s square head, comic book superhero lantern jaw, overly broad shoulders squeezing into a tacky paisley gown oozing with 60s suburban faux-sophistication.  With her vacuous doll’s eyes slathered with garish makeup, she’s just a “Western Harpy.”

Lot 164
Saul Steinberg
Western Harpy
Collage, pastel and ink on paper
From the Beauty Mask series
Stamped”©1966 Saul Steinberg” and signed upper right
Sheet 29″ x 23″
Illustrated Vogue Magazine, January 1, 1967
Estimate $25,000 – 35,000

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