From the archive
MOMA — THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
11 West 53rd Street
May 6–August 27
“Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language” first dances through a largely historical prelude with a short course on playful Conceptual art—“Aesthetic Linguistics 101,” featuring Marcel Duchamp’s “Disks” from 1926 that, like many of the works beside them, suggest a spin into circular illegibility. Experimental Jetset applies the linguistic concept of a snowclone to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1972 “War Is Over” poster, exploding the grammatical kink (If You Want It) with gibberish taken from F. T. Marinetti’s onomatopoeic glamorizing of a bombing in ZANG TUMB TUMB (If You Want It), 2003. The provocative easiness or frivolity of “If You Want It” bleeds over in Marcel Broodthaers’s 1969 blotting out of Mallarmé’s 1897 poem “Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard“ (A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance) and in the population of more phrase-templates in Kay Rosen’s interlocking Shaped Words, 2001.
Passing through the double doors that lead from this prefatory corridor into the second of the exhibition’s two portions, visitors encounter Paul Elliman’s “Found Fount” series, 1989–, where he arranges everyday odds and ends—parts of scissors, brooches, optical lenses removed from their frames—into loose typologies. The project, mimicking the systematic yet open-ended production of metal type, in effect makes the entire man-made world Elliman’s personal limitless font foundry. Paulina Olowska’s 2007 series “Body Movement Alphabet Study” overlays photographs of people with plastic and ink washes. (The ordering in each frame recalls the intricate collage-montage work of the 1966 film Daisies by Czech filmmaker and fashion wunderkind Vera Chytilová). The characters thus arranged appear to form letters—an idea borrowed from Czech typographer Karel Teige. This is the liveliest work in the show: It’s as if the disembodied word-art hanging in the hallway has sprung to life, here in the shape of a grinning, aproned Fred Astaire—extending his hands straight out from either side of his body, forming a lowercase t.