As a child, one of my favorite things was to open the cedar closet, which stored my mother’s seal coat and run my hands up and down the nap; changing the color from espresso to fawn. I enjoy this same luxurious sensation when I glide my hands over handset type. I know this is weird. But if you’ve ever set type, you know what I mean. You can feel the letters.
The current show, Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language at MoMA gave me goosebumps. I experienced the joy of letters and words and the deconstruction of words taken away from meaning.
The Robert Smithson piece, A Heap of Language composed of 152 words in a pyramidal form collapses language. “A word outside of the mind is a set of “dead letters”. The mania for literalness related to the breakdown in the rational belief in reality. Books entomb words in a synthetic rigor mortis, perhaps that is why “print” is thought to have entered obsolescence.” 1957 R.Smithson
The artists in this show (those shown for historical reasons and those working today) have taken content and turned it into something visual. There is wallpaper made of words, constructed photographs of letters, a floor runner by Ferdinand Kriwet and numerous collections of objects called Found Fount by Paul Elliman. All of these pieces have one thing in a common; an uncommon joyful spirit. As Smithson pointed out over fifty years ago, print may be dead, but playing around with words is not.