“Black Market Type and Print Shop” 06.09.09
Author: Micah Malone
05.07.09-06.27.09 Feldman Gallery at the Pacific Northwest College of Art
Creating fonts can be a touchy subject, raising issues of intellectual property—touchier still when the fonts in question sample hand-drawn lettering from well-known works of art. However, for the exhibition “Black Market Type and Print Shop,” font generation becomes a clever game of connoisseurship. Curator Joseph del Pesco appropriated mostly handwritten texts from single pieces of art (or series of works) as source material for his exhibited typefaces, without seeking permission from the sampled artists.
Ironically, John Baldessari’s Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell, 1966–68, was originally meant to look impersonal, and yet the font generated from his work is more identifiable than anything else on view. Recognizing Baldessari’s presence yields one of the most delightful moments in the exhibition. By extracting only the handwritten text from artworks, thus ignoring original semantic content and rhetorical nuances, del Pesco frees the text from its context, though it remains bound by the artists’ authorial presence. Fetishizing well-known lettering has vast implications, including the potential for mischievous profits; yet here, it mostly just generates delicious fun, allowing viewers to match each artist with his or her font.
In a separate gallery—the so-called Print Shop—a computer awaits, loaded with the fonts in Adobe Illustrator. Visitors can design and print posters with their favorite “black market” font and are encouraged to add their creation to a forest of prints accumulating on a bulletin board in the same room. Amusing as it is to simply click the font menu and choose between Margaret Kilgallen, Duane Michaels, R. Crumb, and twenty-seven others, the results illustrate the font variety without ever spawning an inventiveness that surpasses novelty. This remains true in the first gallery, where, alongside del Pesco’s typefaces, text-only posters created from these fonts by participating “international artists” lack anything more than droll punning—making the implications of the exhibition’s font usage frustratingly safe.