Saul Steinberg's “The Labyrinth,” republished by the New York Review of Books press © The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Review: Saul Steinberg's 'The Labyrinth'

The Washington Post

By Philip Kennicott

December 13, 2018

Think you don’t understand art? This is the one book you’ll need.

If you want to learn how to look at art, there is a bustling market in books that purport to teach people just that. None of them, however, are quite as effective as a strange volume first published in 1960, called “ (opens in a new window) The Labyrinth.” It contains hardly any words, except those that appear within its drawings, such as the word “help” falling off a stone pier, or “maybe” and “perhaps” balanced like weights on a scale. “The Labyrinth,” the fourth of Saul Steinberg’s seven books, is perhaps his best: the most representative of his artistry, the most consistent and focused in its themes, and arguably the most delightful.

It is also a primer in how to look at representations of the world, a one-volume exercise manual for the eyes. Steinberg, known to a large popular audience for his work at the New Yorker (he contributed 85 covers and more than 600 inside drawings), spent a lifetime thinking with his pen, absorbing the stylistic developments of 20th-century art, and creating a spare, nervous idiom in which he could underscore the odd habits and quirks of the world we process visually.

“The Labyrinth” has been republished by the New York Review of Books press, and looking back into it is a revelation. The book opens with an extended, tour-de-force version of a Steinberg classic, the Line, seven pages unified by a single horizontal line that functions in myriad ways, as a timeline of history, a horizon line, the line dividing water from land, the edge of a table, the top of a bridge, a topographical mark and a clothesline (with socks, towels and shirts appended). From there, the book unfolds as a set of interlocking mini-essays on Steinberg’s favorite and recurring subjects: music and musicians, architecture, the chatter of socialites, the vanity of power and ambition, and the iconography of mid-century America.

Read the full review, written by Philip Kennicott, on (opens in a new window) The Washington Post.
  • Press — The Washington Post Reviews "Saul Steinberg: The Labyrinth", Dec 13, 2018