Paulina Olowska. Body Movement Alphabet Studies. 2007. 16 collages, ranging from 42 x 31.5 cm to 43 x 61 cm. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Paulina Olowska.

Kay Rosen. Shaped Words. 2001. Enamel sign paint on canvas, .7 x 64.8 cm; 54.3 x 61 cm. Courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. © Kay Rosen, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

Robert Smithson. A Heap of Language. 1966. Pencil drawing, 16.7 x 56.2 cm. The Over Holland Collection. © Estate of Robert Smithson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Modern and Contemporary Tests of the Pragmatics of Language

Tauba Auerbach. RGB Colorspace Atlas. 2011. Set of 3 books. Digital offset print on paper, case-bound book, with airbrushed cloth cover and page edges. Binding construction by 20.3 x 20.3 x 20.3 cm. Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. ©Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Paulina Olowska. Body Movement Alphabet Studies. 2007. 16 collages, ranging from 42 x 31.5 cm to 43 x 61 cm. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin. © Paulina Olowska.

Ei Arakawa and Nikolas Gambaroff. Two-Alphabet Monograms. 2009. Installation view, Pro Choice, Vienna, 2009. Courtesy Pro Choice, Vienna. © Ei Arakawa/Nikolas Gambaroff.

Shannon Ebner. USA. 2003. Chromogenic color print, 80 x 101.3 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of the Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art. © Shannon Ebner.

Shannon Ebner. RAW WAR. 2004. Chromogenic color print, 52.1 x 59.8 cm. Collection Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. © Shannon Ebner.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Vive la France. 1914-15. Ink, crayon, and cut-and-pasted printed paper on paper, 30.9 x 32.6 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Benjamin and Frances Benenson Foundation. © 2012 Artists Rights Society(ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome.

Tauba Auerbach. Ugaritic Alphabet. 2006. Ink and pencil on paper, 67.3 x 56.5 cm. Collection David Hoberman, Los Angeles. ©Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Henri Chopin. La Crevette Amoureuse. 1967-73. Artist’s book, unbound, page, typescript on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm. Courtesy Supportico Lopez, Berlin, and Fondazione Morra, Naples.

Adam Pendleton, Black Dada (LK/LC/AA). 2008-09. Silkscreen ink on canvas, two panels, Each panel 121.9 x 192.7 cm, overall 243.8 x 192.7 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Fund of the 21st Century 2011, © 2011 Adam Pendleton.

 

 

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
212-708-9400
New York
Special Exhibition Gallery, third floor
Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language
May 6-August 27, 2012

Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language, looks at some of the ways contemporary artists have experimented with language, freeing it from the page and from its communicative and descriptive duties. Works by 12 contemporary artists and artists’ groups are presented in juxtaposition with works by key 20th-century artists, all of which concentrate on the material qualities of language — visual, aural, and beyond. The exhibition includes painting, sculpture, film, video, drawing, prints, and audio. The title is taken from two touchstone objects in the exhibition, one historical, the other contemporary: Robert Smithson’s seminal illustration of words as material, A Heap of Language (1966), and Shannon Ebner’s video The Ecstaticalphabet (2011), which animates, atomizes, and presents language as a time-based experience. Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language is organized by Laura Hoptman, Curator, with Eleonore Hugendubel, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art.

The contemporary works featured in this exhibition belong to a distinguished history of poem/objects and concrete language experiments dating to the beginnings of modernism, and include both Futurist and Dada objects as well as Neo-Dada experiments of the late 1950s, and works that sprang from international literary movements like concrete and sound poetry in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. This history is presented in the form of a timeline of objects in many mediums that tell a story of concrete language in visual art, including Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s iconic Vive la France drawing from 1914; Marcel Duchamp’s disc poems for his film Anemic Cinema (1926); Noigandres (1952–58), the publication by Augusto and Haraldo de Campos that introduced the concept of concrete poetry to a wider public; Robert Smithson’s A Heap of Language (1966); and a re-creation of poet and performer John Giorno’s Dial-A-Poem (1969-), an interactive telephonic work exhibited in MoMA’s legendary Information exhibition (1970). Dial-A-Poem, which features poems by poets, artists, and musicians like John Ashbery, oe Brainard, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, and Laurie Anderson, among many others, allows visitors to access poems inside the exhibition space, for free via telephone by dialing the following local New York phone number (347) 763-8001 (active from May 1 until the exhibition closes on August 27, 2012) and through MoMA.org.

Although they are similar in inspiration, the contemporary works in Ecstatic Alphabets / Heaps of Language represent a radical updating of the concrete language experiments of the 20th century. Moving freely among disciplines, the contemporary artists in this exhibition function simultaneously as poets, writers, performers, and graphic designers, producing hybrid works of art in which the letter, the word, and the phrase are transcribed into sounds, symbols, pictures, or patterns, scrambled, negated, and most importantly, freed from the page and, in some cases, the duties of communication altogether.

In the spirit of earlier concrete language experiments, all of the recent works in the exhibition have an abiding connection to poetry, which runs like a subtheme through the show, adding the ecstatic element to each work. The contemporary section of the show includes works by Ei Arakawa/Nikolas Gambaroff, Tauba Auerbach, Dexter Sinister (David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey), Trisha Donnelly, Shannon Ebner, Paul Elliman, Experimental Jetset, Sharon Hayes, Karl Holmqvist, Paulina Olowska, Adam Pendleton, and Nora Schultz. Among the notable installations included in this portion of the exhibition is Paul Elliman’s Found Fount (1989–present), an ongoing collection of more than 10,000 manmade found objects (in the words of the artist, “a system to describe the world using the world itself”), which together create a usable font in which no character is used more than once. A legendary project that has been influential to artists and graphic designers alike, it is exhibited here for the first time. Other works include Auerbach’s RGB Colorspace Atlas (2011), a series of three computer-generated books, which offer a vibrant physicalization of the color spectrum in book form; and Arakawa and Gambaroff’s Two-Alphabet Monograms (2011), a set of 325 unique canvas flags that contain all combinations of two-letter monograms, which is combined with a single-channel audio recording of the phonemes being pronounced.

Publication •Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language is accompanied by a publication designed and produced by Dexter Sinister that includes text by Ms. Hoptman, reproductions of works in the exhibition, and an exhibition checklist. The publication also exists as an issue of the composite printed and electronic publication Bulletins of the Serving Library, a continuing series published twice-yearly by Dexter Sinister. The book is published by Dexter Sinister in the United States and by Sternberg Press in Europe (with distribution by Motto). It will be available at the MoMA stores and online at The Serving Library. This volume comprises Dexter Sinister’s contribution to the exhibition.

Tauba Auerbach. Alexander Melville Bell’s Visible Speech (consonants). 2006 Gouache, ink, and pencil on paper, 127 x 96.5 cm. Collection Ninah and Michael Lynne. © Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Tauba Auerbach. Alexander Melville Bell’s Visible Speech (vowels). 2006. Gouache, ink, and pencil on paper, 116.8 x 86.4 cm. Collection Alexandra Bowes and Stephen Williamson. ©Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Tauba Auerbach (American, born 1981). How to Spell the Alphabet. 2005. Ink and pencil on paper, 76.2 x 55.9 cm. Private collection. ©Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Tauba Auerbach, The Whole Alphabet, From the Center Out, Digital, V. 2006. Gouache on paper on panel 76.2 x 55.9 cm. Private Collection, © 2011 Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Experimental Jetset, Zang Tum Tum. If You Want It. 2003. Digital print, Collection the artists. © 2011, Experimental Jetset.

Ferdinand Kriwet. Walk Talk. 1969. Silkscreen on PVC, 100 x 1081.5 cm. Courtesy BQ, Berlin. © Ferdinand Kriwet.

Liliane Lijn. ABC Cone. 1965. Letraset on painted truncated cork cone, motorized turntable, 40.7 x 24 x 24 cm. Courtesy Liliane Lijn. © Liliane Lijn.

Shannon Ebner. AGITATE. 2010. 4 Chromogenic color prints, each: 160 x 121.9 c, overall: 160 x 487.7 cm. Collection Shane Akeroyd. © Shannon Ebner.

Bruce Nauman. Raw War. 1970. Neon, glass tubing, wire, transformer, and sequencer, 16.5 x 43.5 x 6.4 cm. The Baltimore Museum of Art. Gift of Leo Castelli, New York. © 2012 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.