As a pioneer in art dealing, Bernice Steinbaum has been a fervent advocate for artists of minority. She made a fissure in the art market of the ’70s and ’80s that bore ripples in standards of a “traditional artist” today. Her role was a deeply formative one for many artists. As the film shows, Steinbaum’s life is perhaps best chronicled by others; she seems to charm everyone she meets as the list of people who eulogize her with anecdotes of admiration is innumerable and growing.
New filmmaker Kristina Sorge shines the spotlight on Steinbaum as a paragon of integrity in the art world – a world that has been “unduly racist and sexist in America,” according to artist Faith Ringgold in the film. Running only 30 minutes long, the eponymous short film looks back on Steinbaum’s early years when she was just as much a spirited activist as a tenured art dealer. As the film shows, Steinbaum’s life is perhaps best chronicled by others. “People were more than willing to share their stories and experiences working with Bernice,” says Sorge, who sourced much of the interview material from the five artists featured, all of whom Steinbaum supports financially.
Steinbaum devoted her career to both social and artistic causes. The racial and gender inequality of the art world, especially in her early years, bled into hurdles and hardships that not only posed a problem for Steinbaum but also for the artists she resolutely represented. Despite the setbacks, she maintained her belief that, when confronted with obstacles in the art world,
“you only need one person to believe in you and that should be magic.”
Notwithstanding her initial criteria, she did not only choose artists based on their minority status. On the contrary, when looking at an artist’s work, she forwent the notion of gender and race; she searched solely for the universal needs present in one’s art that necessitate prestigious gallery representation. In other words, she really only chose artists she found to be game changers – artists with works that she believed “would make the annals of art history.” Her fruitful plight to show her artists in renowned museums and gallery collections was testament to her phenomenon: how one visionary can change an entire canon of casted ideals and industry.
Steinbaum relayed to Art Report the importance of attributing global progress also to women and all cultures, by citing the metaphor of fiber (weaving, crocheting, etc.) as symbolic of weaving, thus sustaining, advancement through the ages.
“We live in a global world [where] a rich culture beyond ours of people… must be included in any exploration that deals with the art of fiber and how we are not only connected to our past generations but also to the world.”
Steinbaum’s electric personality is prize-winning in and of itself. Through Ms. Sorge’s creative lens especially, Bernice’s story is elevated to the very art she delves into: frank, vibrant, and irrestible. As a result, the film has already raked in a considerable amount of press coverage and accolades. It took home multiple wins from the San Diego Jewish Film Festival for Best Documentary in addition to the Audience Choice Award for Favorite Film and awarded Best Short Documentary at multiple film festivals including the Athena Film Festival (New York City), the Madrid International Festival, and premiered first at Hot Docs Canadian Film Festival.
Should Ms. Sorge have an opportunity for a full feature one day, she shared with Art Report, “I would like to include a more intimate look on Bernice’s background and focus on some of the earlier stages of her life, including what first jumpstarted her career into the arts and the challenges she had to overcome. I would also like to discuss her current involvement in the arts and what she’s most passionate about in regards to the future of the art industry.”
Like this article? Check out Robert Adanto’s “The F Word” on the fourth wave of feminism in art and other global art news.