Lisl Steiner - PhotoJournalist, Artist, Poet - Interviews - Leica 2000


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Lisl Steiner - Interviews - Leica 2000

Leica Gallery - May 26th - June 24th, 2000

A Photographic Retrospective

miscellaneous - 1: comprising members or items of different kinds: grouped together without system 2a: having various traits: dealing with or interested in unrelated topics or subjects b: lacking in unity: having the characteristics of a patchwork
- Merriam Webster's Third New International Dictionary

In Cynthia Magriel Wetzler's article in The New York Times (September 10, 1995) about Lisl Steiner, entitled "Artist's Life Comes Full Circle," the photographer/artist assumed another role - that of prophetess - when she said, "My volcano will peak in the year 2000, when I am 73. When you grow older, you become a little clairvoyant." Steiner's prophesy became reality when it was announced that in the Fall of 1999 in Vienna. Galerie Johannes Faber would exhibit her photographs and the Austrian National Library would exhibit her sketches. Following these shows, in 2000, Leica Gallery, with the generous support of the Austrian Cultural Institute New York, is hosting a full retrospective of her work.

During her interview with the photographer, Wetzler noted that Steiner "has photographed many people, `famous and not famous'... Among them are several South American dictators. She [Steinerl pointed to a photograph of Fidel Castro and chuckled, 'I took the opportunity to tell him what to do,' she said. `Sit here, stand up, move that way, turn your head.' The dictators are all here in her studio along with Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Casals, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy...She slipped a bracelet off her wrist and held it up. `My life is now a series of full circles,' she said, `like this bracelet. See, it has no end, always a new beginning, continuous... You mellow with age, either become good wine or vinegar."'

The exhibitions of Lisl Steiner's work in Vienna and her retrospective at Leica Gallery in New York City display a far greater breadth and depth than simply that of a portrait artist/photographer and photojournalist. In fact, her work is a salmagundi - a patchwork or medley of visions that reflects the richness and variety of her own life and career. Lisl Steiner was born in Vienna in 1927 and in 1938 her family emigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she studied art, receiving her Baccalaureate in Fine Arts in 1944 at the University of Buenos Aires. She also attended the Fernando Fader School of Decorative Arts and studied with Ignazio Kaufmann, as well as at the Jean Josse Studio. From 1945 until 1953, Steiner was a member of the Argentinean film industry, working on the production of over fifty documentary films. Then, first in South America and then in North America and Europe. she also worked as a photojournalist, with her images appearing in such publications as LIFE, Newsweek, The New York Times, and Time. She later became an American citizen and worked on numerous television productions for NBC and Public Television. Lisl Steiner represents Argentina in the United States as an Academician in Arts and Sciences.

As early as 1949, Lisl Steiner began a large-scale photographic project of recording the artists, politicians and personalities of our time. Many of these images were created both as photographs and also as artist sketches - the latter with a simplicity of line and directness that reminds one of the work of George Grosz. Before her lens and her sketch-book came such luminaries as Louis Armstrong, Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Jorge Luis Borges, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pablo Casals, Fidel Castro, Miles Davis, President Eisenhower, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Dizzie Gillespie, Dick Gregory, the Kennedys, B.B. King, Martin Luther King, Henry Kissinger. Otto Klemperer, Norman Mailer, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Pablo Neruda, the Nixons, Nelson Rockefeller, Adlai Stevenson, and Herbert von Karajan. Her images - such as Cartier-Bresson photographing in New York; Kissinger conversing at a hot tub with Beckenbauer, soccer star; Fidel Castro meeting the press in Buenos Aires; Richard and Pat Nixon at the Republican Presidential Convention; or a working Alfred Eisenstaedt at the United Nations, with a press pass dangling from his suit jacket and Leica cameras hanging around his neck - all are imbued with characteristic Viennese surrealism and permeated with Steiner's unique humanistic vision.

The Leica Gallery exhibition also includes Steiner's photographs from her project, Children of America, comprising images from thirty-one countries in South, Central and North America. Of course, from Steiner's beloved Vienna are her photographs of the chimney sweeps and the coffee houses - of the latter, she has said - and her photographs reflect her words: "I am sitting in my Stammcafe (at my customary coffee house, Cafe Central) in Vienna. Here, you read all the newspapers from left to right [politically]. You stay forever, no rush. Time stands still (almost). You meditate about your life, your next projects, global politics. You're your own guru. You meet people. The place becomes your office, your drawing room, your home away from home. You drink the most delightful Kaffees (the Turks laid siege to Vienna in 1529 and 1638, and when they had to leave, they abandoned sacks of coffee beans). The brew is so good because of the great Viennese water. The foothills of the Alps. You sin on grand desserts." After all, Vienna is so close to Lisl Steiner's heart that she has confessed "... I would like to relate why I do own Louis Vuitton bags. I swore early on that I would never, never, never own anything not bearing my own initials, but then I figured out that I could buy these great bags because my initials are, after all, LV - Lisl of Vienna." Finally, a selection of Lisl Steiner's sketches will be shown alongside her photographs to form a complete retrospective of her entire oeuvre.

- Rose and Jay Deutsch (On-Site Directors)


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