Forty artists elide, dismantle, and politicize the alphabet

The Broodthaers Society of America is pleased to present Wrecked Alphabet, an exhibition organized by Joe Scanlan and Eric Li that brings together forty artists, graphic designers, musicians, and writers whose work engages the alphabet.

Many artists over the past one hundred years have made use of the alphabet as a ‘thing’, from Dadaists and Concrete poets to Pop artists and the Oulipo Group. Wrecked Alphabet takes cues from these legacies (and others) but focuses on recent practitioners. Four precedents in particular form the cornerstones of the show: Lee Friedlander’s Letters from the People (1994); Claudia Rankine’s The End of the Alphabet (1998); Christian Bök’s Eunoia (2001); and Dexter Sinister’s Letter & Spirit (2012). Each has had a profound effect on how we see, think, and speak the Roman alphabet today. In these tumultuous times, the very institution of signs that we use to express our thoughts is open to exuberant scrutiny.

Checklist, Map

The artists in the show by turns elide the alphabet, puzzle it, dismantle it, and politicize it, all the while transforming its letters into a more chimerical system of signs. Through such techniques as erasure, collage, pruning, rebus-making, word play, animation, and univocalizing, the cumulative effect is a heightened awareness of the alphabet as a discrete set of objects, a semiotic system, and a social construct. In that spirit, Wrecked Alphabet will exist as an exhibition, a reading room, and a website simultaneously, with no distinction as to whether one context is a better experience than any other.

Font design is a critical aspect of the show, given the extraordinary range of images, materials, and software used. Artists in Wrecked Alphabet have made fonts out of everything from street signs and hair extensions to cocoa butter and Blinky Palermo. The title of the show itself is set in Ugly Gerry, a font designed by Ben Doessel and James Lee using twenty-six of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the United States.

Wrecked Alphabet will also feature three new texts for 2020: Katy Didden’s Ore Choir, a manuscript of thirty poems composed in the voice of lava, unearthed from eight hundred years of writing from and about Iceland; Broodthaers: On Des!!!gn, a scholarly pamphlet by Eric Li on the crucial role type design plays in our reception of Marcel Broodthaers’ industrial poems; and Alphabetland, the first studio album in thirty-five years by the legendary punk band X.

Wrecked Alphabet opens by appointment on Sunday, October 4 from 1–5pm and continues through Saturday, December 5. The opening reception and visits are limited to four persons at a time. Face masks are required and personal distances of at least six feet will be maintained.

Including work by Aarati Akkapeddi, Tife Aladesuru, the Alphabettes, Kara Bressler, Augusto de Campos, Elisabeth S. Clark, Allana Clarke, Nazli Ercan, Carson Gutierrez, Lily Healey, Katie Holten, Inger Christensen, Peter Kazantsev, Caitlin Keogh, Eunice Lee, Estibaliz Matulewicz, New York Modular Society, Paulina Olowska, Omnivore, Neeta Patel, Q Takeki Maeda & Jay Chung, Srikanth Reddy, Kay Rosen, Laurel Schwulst, Kevin Tseng, Isabel Urbina Peña, Cynthia Vu, Claire Wahmanholm, Sydney Wilder, Amy Yao, and Jonathan Zong.

Joe Scanlan is an artist and director of the Broodthaers Society of America. Eric Li is an independent graphic designer and a software developer at MoMA.

The Broodthaers Society provides a forum in which America might contemplate itself through the life and work of Marcel Broodthaers and, in the process, renew our appreciation of the artist as well. When Broodthaers died at the relatively young age of fifty-two, he left behind many unfinished works on such themes as ‘art and merchandise’, ‘the amateur’, and ‘laziness’. The Broodthaers Society periodically mounts exhibitions that expand on these ideas, ever mindful of the knowledge gained through the process of making things.