In our last post Hans Ulrich Obrist discussed his obsession for the titles of his exhibitions and different schools of titles, inter alia, titles of the artists Gerhard Richter, Gilbert & George and Damien Hirst. Here are some other artists for whom titles play an important part in their work; in fact, the titles are the work.
‘Art’; ‘End’; and ‘Pity’ are titles of word paintings of the American artist Ed Ruscha who painted these words against backdrops of mountains, clouded skies, or just colour gradients. Later in his career he started to paint comical phrases, including “I WOULD GLADLY PAY YOU TUESDAY FOR A HAMBURGER TODAY”; “I PLEAD INSANITY BECAUSE I’M JUST CRAZY ABOUT THAT LITTLE GIRL”; and “HONEY, I TWISTED THROUGH MORE DAMNED TRAFFIC TO GET HERE”, some of them painted in Ruscha’s own designed typeface named “Boy Scout Utility Modern” – an angular capital typeface, with no curves.
Margit Rowell, the curator of Ruscha’s Show, “Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips®, Smoke and Mirrors” commented, “Ruscha’s work includes paintings, photographs, prints, books and films, but his works on paper are perhaps his richest vein. Through his interpretation of cultural icons and vernacular subjects, such as the Hollywood sign, trademarks, and gas stations, as well as his renderings of words and phrases in countless stylistic variations, Ruscha proposes a modern landscape based on keen observation and wry humor”.
Ruscha’s works remain extremely relevant today: he could be regarded as a predecessor to Twitter as his works are comparable to an “intriguing” Tweet, made in a concise statement or comment of less than 140 characters.
2. “I Shop Therefore I Am” – Barbara Kruger
Kruger became renowned for her – much imitated – graphic style of bold and confronting phrases, which are usually set in white on red in Futura Bold Oblique typeface. The layout of the phrases appear as a threatening letter, and are displayed in a collage manner on black and white pictures. Kruger’s text are often politically charged statements, addressing issues of, for example, consumerism (“Buy me I’ll change your life”), and power (“77% of anti-abortion leaders are men. 100% of them will never be pregnant”).
3“You Are a Victim of the Rules You Live By” – Jenny Holzer
Just like Kruger, the work of the American artist Jenny Holzer, also deals with the issues of violence, oppression, sexuality and feminism. Holzer disperses her ideas in public spaces which are projected on buildings in the street or shown on LCD displays. Her phrase “Protect Me From What I Want” even made it to Times Square where it was largely displayed on a LED billboard.
At the beginning of her career, Holzer wrote her own texts and became renowned for her “Truisms”, short statements such as “Men Are Not Monogamous By Nature” and “Money Creates Taste”, which were printed on cheap, coloured paper and plastered on the walls in New York in the 1970s and also printed on T-shirts. From 1993 Holzer started to use texts of others, including Lenin and Mao and Nobel Prize winners Elfriede Jelinek and Wislawa Szymborska.
Holzer has chosen Futura Condensed Bold as her signature typeface for the texts that have been projected in many cities throughout the world in the language of the country. Unfortunately, her texts haven’t been projected (yet) on buildings in dictatorial regimes where they could articulate the thoughts of repressed civilians who are not allowed to express ideas, like Holzer, in public but can only think about them in silence.
Paul Morley also used the T-shirts as his medium. For the band Frankie Goes To Hollywood he created a series of popular “Frankie say” T-shirts based on a controversial T-shirt that the fashion designer Katharine Hamnett wore when she met Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The text on Hamnett’s shirt read: “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING” voicing the British public resistance to basing nuclear weapons in the UK.
To promote the Frankie Goes To Hollywood protest song ‘Two Tribes’ Morley designed a T-shirt marketing campaign. Set in a bold typeface, the slogans were “FRANKIE SAY WAR! HIDE YOURSELF” and “FRANKIE SAY ARM THE UNEMPLOYED” that sold 250,000 copies fulfilling Morley’s desire for the song to become ‘part of public language’.
Written by Thierry Somers (05/2011)
Picture: Barbara Kruger “I Shop Therefore I Am”
If you have a suggestion for a great (exhibition) Title, including the reason why, do let us know.
Titles of Miranda July’s short films:
‘I Started Out With Nothing And I Still Have Most Of It Left’
‘Are You The Favourite Person of Anybody?’

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