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Diploma for Charles Eames

Saul Steinberg

c. 1950

In 1950, Saul Steinberg created this fake diploma for Charles, who had studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis but never completed his degree. The piece was one of many so-called “false documents” that Steinberg made beginning in the 1940s, often as gifts for friends. They ranged from a letter of safe passage for the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson to diplomas for dishwashing and cooking for painter Hedda Sterne, Steinberg’s wife. Charles’s diploma, like the other false documents, imitates the conventions of real ones, with stately illustrations, elaborate calligraphy, prominent seals, and multiple signatures. A closer look, however, reveals that the red seal in the lower-left corner is suspiciously blank and the frustratingly unreadable text is in fact gibberish. Steinberg did not simply imitate official documents, he pushed their format to the point of absurdity. These works synthesized several of the artist’s interests, including calligraphy and handwriting analysis. They also relate to a story that he repeatedly told about himself, claiming that in order to immigrate to the United States he had modified his own expired passport with rubber stamps (in fact, he had all the necessary documents).

  • Medium:Paper, ink
  • Dimensions:20 x 14 in. (50.8 x 35.6 cm)
  • Item:A.2019.2.1822