At Dulwich Picture Gallery

Peter Campbell

In 2006, when a picture from the Saul Steinberg: Illuminations catalogue was reproduced in these pages, the exhibition had just opened in the Morgan Library in New York. Most of the items were (or were very like) drawings made for print. The framed originals would not, I thought, add much to the intense pleasure to be had from the reproductions. Now that the exhibition has come to London – it can be seen until 15 February – that turns out to be only partly true. There are some pieces that really must be seen in the flesh: things in three dimensions, for example (books, pens and pencils whittled from wood), and The Line, a 33-foot-long drawing Steinberg made in 1954 to be enlarged as a mural for a children’s labyrinth in Milan. As you walk along it, the single ruled line that runs from one end of the strip to the other changes its meaning. First it’s water, then a bridge, then (you are now looking down from high up) the point where the building you are in and the pavement meet. A man stares up at you. The conceit only half works when the strip is reduced and divided up into shorter lengths printed one below the other.

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