Artists’ Handwriting Highlighted in New Show at the Archives of American Art


In its new exhibition “The Art of Handwriting,” the Smithsonian Institution‘s Archives of American Art is showcasing 42 letters, postcards, greeting cards, and other kinds of correspondence sent by artists and art world figures. The show invites viewers to draw connections between, say, Dan Flavin‘s elegant, loopy script and his clean, glowing light sculptures, Ad Reinhardt‘s all-caps scrawl and his sparse, abstract paintings, Georgia O’Keeffe‘s spiral-filled writing and her floral abstractions, or Carl Andre‘s “@” symbol sign-off (above) and his minimalist sculptures and installations.

“Carl Andre’s gridded postcards, stuffed with sturdy capital letters, are a doppelgänger to the metallic plates and stacked timbers of his minimalist floor sculptures,” writes CUNY doctoral candidate Randall Edwards on the Smithsonian website. “Instead of writing on lined paper, Andre inscribed the blank page with such geometric rigor that the outline of the text constrains each individual letter. But from within this prison, the letters flow assertively across the page as a stream of right angles and parabolas, triangles and circles—like a gathering of stoic giants standing quietly, side by side.”

Of Flavin’s ornate handwriting, former Flavin catalogue raisonné project director Tiffany Bell writes:

Whereas his art resists associations with the handmade and has an inherently temporal quality, his letters — first inscribed in a journal, then copied in black ink on unlined paper — are carefully rendered personal accounts meant to last and presumably to record the life of the artist. By hand-writing his letters and including long discourses on events in his life, Flavin seems to take on the tradition of artist’s correspondence, in which letters reveal and record the person.

Peruse these and other artist mailings at the Archives of American Art, or on its website.

“The Art of Handwriting” is on view at the Archives of American Art through October 27.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image: Detail from a 1986 postcard from Carl Andre to John Held. Courtesy the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.)