Saturday, January 12, 2013

Steinberg's New York (1976)

Cambridge, January 12, 2013

What Saul Steinberg did in his legendary 1976 "View of the World from 9th Avenue" New Yorker cover is not so different from Bünting's 1581 cloverleaf map of the world.  Yes, instead of Jerusalem, he places New York, really Manhattan, at the center.  Actually in the foreground: where Bünting uses the cloverleaf as a conceit (maps are daughters of conceit and artifice, don't you think?) Steinberg uses perspective.  One could say that he simply makes an abuse of foreshortening.  Like in Bünting's, everything in Steinberg's "map" is in the right place, even if it all seems a little weird: New Jersey ("Jersey") on the other side of the Hudson, DC to the south, Kansas City and Chicago farther west, Los Angeles just before you hit the Pacific, Mexico to the north, Canada to the south, China, Japan and Russia way, way back.

Interestingly, beyond its rhetorical meaning, "conceit" literally means to have an unreasonably favorable view of oneself, and that's certainly the view that both of our artists have of their respective cities (of course, they are not alone in that; there is a spurious claim that Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, means "belly-button of the world.")  And the comparison stretches even to what our two artists choose to ignore.  Bünting knows about the American continent but relegates it to a corner of the map, certainly not part of the Christian faith, or at least not yet at the time.  By looking west, Steinberg's perspective places his native Europe (he grew up in Romania and studied architecture in Milan, emigrating to the US in his mid thirties) behind him.

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