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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Leo Steinberg

Leo Steinberg is one the 20th century's foremost historians and scholars on the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo and other Italian Renaissance artists. 

Throughout his career, Steinberg has paid particularly close attention to the depiction of Christ in art, and in the process caused much controversy and debate. 

In addition to his scholarly work of Renaissance art, Steinberg is also a significant authority on 20th-century modern art, including the paintings and sculptures of Picasso, Jasper Johns's Flag series, and Willem de Kooning's Woman series. 

His scholarly work has consistently placed art and artists in a historical context, yet he is known for his less than formal approach to criticism by often using a first-person narrative in his essays. This style has personalized art criticism, making it experiential for readers and museumgoers.

He writes in his essay, Contemporary Art and the Plight of the 

Public, "It seems that during this first encounter with Johns's work,

few people were sure of how to respond, while some the 

dependable avant-garde critics applied tested avant-garde standards 

- which seemed suddenly to have grown old and ready for dumping. 

My own reaction was normal. I disliked the show, and would gladly 

have thought it a bore. Yet it depressed me and I wasn't sure why." 

In the works of Jasper Johns, Steinberg identifies a theme of great 

consequence that is not clear to the naked eye, that of waiting. 

Steinberg points out the "sense of desolate waiting" in Johns's 

works, which all contain objects (flags, faces, coat hangers, etc.) 

designed to move and function in a particular way, yet they are held 

absolutely rigid and still. This technique, according to Steinberg, is 

how Jasper Johns manages to invert the viewer's expectations of 

what makes for significant art. 


"...it is in the nature of original contemporary art to present itself as 

a bad risk. And we the public ... should be proud of being in this 

predicament, because nothing else would seem to us quite true to 

life; and art, after all, is supposed to be a mirror of life." 

"If a work of art or a new style disturbs you, then it is probably good work. If you hate it, it is probably great." - Leo Steinberg

"All art is infested by other art."
 - Leo Steinberg

The photo above is how I remembr him in the mid-1970's

Steinberg made a Foucauldian "cut" in the Dominating Discourse of art criticism.