Engineer, Agitator, Constructor: The Artist Reinvented

Kurt Schwitters. Poster for Opel Day: Great car and flower parade (Opel-Tag: Grosser Auto Blumen Korso). 1927 339

Lithograph, 33 1/2 × 23 3/4" (85.1 × 60.3 cm). The Merrill C. Berman Collection. Gift of William A. Koshland (by exchange). © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Curator, Ellen Lupton: Kurt Schwitters was a German artist, poet, publisher and graphic designer. He really wanted to disrupt familiar art practices. However, he had a family to support, so he was also seeking ways to use his skills as an artist to create work for commercial clients.

In this poster for a car show, Schwitters was experimenting with creating a new alphabet. It really annoyed him that the letters of the alphabet are so arbitrary. He wanted to reform the writing system so that the shapes of the alphabet would have more of a connection to the sounds of speech. So, if you look closely at the letterforms in this poster, you'll see that all the vowels are drawn with curves and the consonants are drawn with straight lines.

To create this poster, he had to actually draw all those letters by hand and it was his dream to have an actual typeface made from these letters that could be used in print shops. But he learned that this was an industrial process that was beyond his means.

Schwitters was really into graphic design. He thought it was an important part of culture and business. So even though Schwitters was an incredible artist with this really original practice as a collagist and a Dada performer, he was also really involved in building up graphic design as a new profession.

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