Friday, April 27, 2012


Manhattan gallery Andrew Roth recently presented a solo show by Ricardo Valentim (born 1978 in Portugal) called The New Typography. "He is," according to the press release, "best known for his film screenings and lecture pieces, but works across a variety of media, including radio, printed matter, photography, and sculpture."

This project seems to have been intended as a tribute to Jan Tschichold (1902-1978), universally recognized as one of the most alluring and influential type and graphic designers of the 20th century. As a longtime fan I have featured Tschichold's work often (here and here and here at greatest length). His most famous book (or manifesto, originally published in 1928 and still in print) was called The New Typography, as was the 2010 exhibition devoted to him at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Andrew Roth's press release attempted as follows to explain the connection between The New Typography by Tschichold and The New Typography by Valentim:

"From the turn of the century until the seventies, type foundries designed and distributed typefaces through what were known as type specimens, documents showcasing letterpress type to designers and printers. For over a year, Valentim has been collecting these type specimens. His interest lies in the ways in which they reveal structures of representation and communication. While typefaces usually function as vehicles to present ideas and content, in the case of type specimens this form is inverted: the ideas and content (i.e. words and texts) are used as vehicles to present typefaces."

In plain English, Valentim bought genuine Tschichold type specimen sheets (necessarily from dealers who specialize in typographic ephemera), slapped them into Plexiglas mounts, and then proposed to resell them on the art market as his own conceptual appropriations. The profit would surely be colossal, considering that the overall contemporary art market operates at price-levels exponentially higher than the market for typographic ephemera.   

At the library where I work we collect such type specimens. I have at times chosen and bought them myself for the institution and have subsequently put them on display in ways that look entirely similar to Valentim's display at Andrew Roth. But I foolishly lacked the audacity to claim that my "intervention" had transformed them into my own work.