Even though it can be heavy on tourists, and light on splashy shows, I love summer at the Museum of Modern Art. For one thing, it’s a great time to revisit, and to be re-awed by, the MoMA’s legendary permanent collection of paintings and sculpture on the museum’s fourth and fifth floors (seriously: I forget how many amazing works are just hanging here waiting to be looked at ALL THE TIME).
For another, the MoMA’s open every day in the summer, and until 8:00 on both Thursday and Friday evenings, which always makes for a pleasant after-work plan. And for a third: ice cream in the sculpture garden!
Anyway, I went to the MoMA last week for all of the above, and also discovered a terrific little typography-laden exhibition in the back gallery on the third floor, with the somewhat ungainly title of Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language.
This smartly organized group exhibition has both a modern and a contemporary component, but it’s all concerned with the ways in which letters and language has been visualized (or, more accurately, “materialized”, in some way) by more than 30 artists over the past few decades.
The long hallway–or, I should say, the long “walk-talk-way”) into the gallery has been set up with small historical pieces from the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Bruce Nauman, and Lawrence Weiner, mostly on paper, and all pretty cool. There’s also three Dial-a-Poem phones which, if nothing else, offer a teachable moment for kids who have likely never seen such an “antique”.
In the gallery proper you’ll find the bulk of the MoMA’s Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language show, and, though some of it was familiar to me, I really liked most of the pieces on display. Tauba Auerbach has a bunch of work here, including her brilliantly simple, typewritten The Whole Alphabet and All the Punctuation.
Experimental Jetset’s Zang! Tum Btumb (If You Want It) hangs in the foyer, a take on the John and Yoko classic “War is Over”; there are cases filled with Paul Elliman’s My Typographies and Paul Elliman’s Found Fonts, in which objects become letters (or maybe it’s the other way around?); and Karl Holmqvist’s neon homage to Howl, I’m With You in Rockland, looks out over 54th Street.
But the real star of the MoMA’s Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language is Shannon Ebner’s massive, quadriptych Agitate, black-and-white photographs of huge cut-out cardboard letters, propped up against a brick wall with rebar. Ebner’s piece dominates the gallery and was my favorite thing I saw all day.
You can find more information about summer hours and other goings-on at the MoMA, as well as more images from the Ecstatic Alphabet/Heaps of Language, on their website.
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