February 16 – March 17, 1998
Beaver College Art Gallery
The Beaver College Art Gallery is pleased to present “Kay Rosen: ABC (At Beaver College)” an exhibition of murals, paintings and drawings employing alphabetical sequences, on view from February 16 through March 17, 1998. The opening reception will take place on Monday evening, February 16, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM beginning with a lecture on Rosen’s work by Tom Sokolowski, Director of The Andy Warhol Museum, in the Stiteler Auditorium of Beaver’s Murphy Hall.
“ABC” provides an unusual opportunity to examine a series of integrally related pieces by an artist recognized for her innovations in the exploration of text as image. Each of the eight works in the exhibition draws on the deeply embedded, universal order of the English alphabet to reveal what Rosen refers to as “unofficial and coincidental encounters between structure and meaning.” In these characteristically bold and deceptively simple pieces (ranging from 1988 to the present,) Rosen mines the alphabet for examples of “pictorial onomatopoeia,” unearthing startling relationships between letter sequences as they are written, spoken, and named.
Rosen’s hair splitting attention to typestyle, color, cropping, and titles invests these unassuming samples of the alphabet with the ability to act in ways that conventional language rarely has a chance to. She creates conditions under which, instead of simply recognizing letters and words, as we do when we read standard texts, we can witness the release of dormant and unexpected meanings. The sequence D E F, for example, rendered with sign paint on canvas, speaks the title of Rosen’s painting, Deaf, a word in which we cannot hear the letter “a.” The addition of a period following the “v” in U Versus W (1995) transforms this three-letter sequence into a debate
(U v. W) as well as a formal, typographical analysis. In addition to knowing the names of Rosen’s works, saying them aloud offers clues to their content. The puzzle behind the painted equation xy = z remains unsolved until its title, Xylophone is voiced by the viewer.
Other pieces in the exhibition are generated by Rosen’s nuanced disturbance of alphabetical progressions. The Beginning of a Byzantine Plot (1997), for example, continues the pattern of symmetrical inversion found in the first four letters of the word BYZAntine. The resulting narrative becomes too elaborate to follow, despite the rigor with which it is pursued. For The River (1988), the letters S T Y X are stacked between the banks of P Q R (above) and W V U (below). Reversing and backing up their natural flow, Rosen creates a verbal proxy of a mythological landscape.
Unlike the more declamatory voices used in the text-based work of artists such as Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, Rosen opts for neutrality, even as she exposes the symbolic, patriarchal order represented by the alphabet –arguably one of the most influential instruments of control ever devised. The works included in “ABC,” with their persuasive, often humorous demonstrations of alternative readings of the alphabet, celebrate uncanny – yet seemingly inevitable – occurrences within this highly utilitarian tool.
Rosen’s manipulations, with their emphasis on the pictorial, tautological, and systemic possibilities of text, could be described as concrete poems and/or conceptual works, were they not so physically present as paintings, drawings, and environments. The two murals that feature prominently in the exhibition are cited specifically in response to a 34-foot long wall tinted sky – blue on one side of a shorter bisecting wall, and black on the other. Hand– painted in white against the blue are the first nine letters of the alphabet, the last two of which (colored yellow) spell the sunny American greeting of Rosen’s HI (1997 – 98). The alphabetical sequence continues on the other side of the wall from J to Q. The central letters of this group, LMNO (also painted yellow), comprise Rosen’s code for the Middle of a Film Noir (1990/97), a work that transforms the back gallery into a movie theater. Rosen’s linking of these two murals in the space echoes the way the word “alphabet” itself neatly fuses the first Greek letter, alpha to beta, the second.
Earlier this year, two billboard versions of HI were sited on Routes 15 and 144 in Lewisburg and Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, as part of a collaboration with Bucknell University’s Center Gallery. These two public works, presented anonymously, will remain on view through February 28, 1998.
Rosen, who will be on hand for the reception on February 16th, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, and lives and works in Gary, Indiana. She received a B.A. from Tulane University and her M.A. in linguistics from Northwestern University. A recipient of three NEA Visual Arts Grants (in 1987, 1989, and 1995) and an Awards in the Visual Arts Fellowship (1990), she has presented her work in solo and group shows internationally since the early 1980s. In 1995 she was included in the group exhibition “Word for Word” (curated by Paula Marincola) at the Beaver College Art Gallery, where she presented a wall painting of her work Leak. Early next year, she will be the subject of a mid-career survey organized jointly by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Otis College of Art and Design.
“ABC” will be introduced with a lecture by Tom Sokolowski on Monday evening, February 16th at 6:30 pm in the Stiteler Auditorium. Prior to his appointment as director of the Andy Warhol Museum, Sokolowski was, for twelve years, director of New York University’s Gray Art Gallery and Study Center.