As a mural-collage, The Americans is unique in the history of mural-making, coming as it does from the hand of one of the great collagistes of the 20th century. Whether in monumental form, as in the Brussels mural, or as cutouts, added labels, photographs, receipts, and tickets on works on paper or relief sculptures, collage resonates throughout Steinberg’s career.31
As if collage itself were insufficient, he often incorporated drawings that simulated collage elements, or used collaged patches to correct a drawing.
“I play with the absurdity of reality. There is something absurd about what we consider to be real—even what we consider to be absurd.”32 If anything marks Steinberg’s place in the course of 20th-century art and defines his eclectic, high-low imagination, it is collage. “I was born,” he said, “in a college for collages.” His father “had all the materials for a collagiste. He had cardboard, he had colored paper, he had gilt paper and glue…[and] reproductions of paintings for candy boxes.”33 His boyhood passed, Steinberg’s serious exploration of collage began in the 1930s through Bertoldo, which regularly published cartoons amplified by collage, including works by Steinberg himself.34
Collage remained a fixture of his art, and nowhere more dramatically or provocatively than in The Americans.