04 January 2010


1920s, 1930s, Jan Tschichold, Ladislav Sutnar, Piet Zwart

The New Typography Exhibition at MoMA

“The New Typography is distinguished from the old by the fact that its first objective is to develop its visible form out of the functions of the text. It is essential to give pure and direct expression to the contents of whatever is printed: just as in the works of technology and nature, ‘form’ must be created out of function. Only then can we achieve a typography which expresses the spirit of modern man.”

The excerpt above from Jan Tschichold’s Die Neue Typographie (1928) summarizes the exhibition titled The New Typography, located in the Architecture and Design Galleries at the Museum of Modern Art until July 12, 2010. Tschichold’s landmark book inspired modern and avant-garde designers by providing practical guidelines for a new visual vocabulary. This impressive exhibition (approx. 37 items) of posters and printed matter such as advertisements, business cards, brochures, magazine covers, packaging, teaching aids and more represent Tschichold’s collection of Soviet Russian, German, Dutch and Czechislovakian materials, which supported his teaching and publication from 1927 to 1937.

Letterforms were recognized by supporters of The New Typography as having formal properties alongside their linguistic function. From this simple observation, they created a system of graphic design that operated on abstract principles yet opened up limitless possibilities for layout, artistic expression, and clarity of communication. Rejecting superfluous elements and the traditional arrangement of type in symmetrical columns, designers organized the printed page and poster as blank fields in which blocks of type, bold colors (in many cases, the printed items were 2-color), and illustrations - frequently in the form of photomontage - could be arranged in strikingly asymmetrical yet harmonious compositions. With an emphasis on simplicity and directness of communication, this new movement embraced and circulated the message of modernism around the world.

In addition to works by Tschichold (figs 4, 5), other standouts of the exhibit include works by Walter Dexel (figs 2, 7), Ladislav Sutnar (fig 2), Theo Ballmer (fig 2), Kurt Schwitters (fig 3), Herbert Bayer (fig 3), Joost Schmidt (fig 3), Aleksandr Rodchenko (fig 6), Paul Schuitema (fig 8), Piet Zwart (fig 8) and Max Burchartz (fig 9). The New Typography’s display of graphic works clearly demonstrate Tschichold’s principles and is an essential accompaniment to the Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity exhibition, also currently on view at MoMA through January 25, 2010. German-born Tschichold first visited the Bauhaus school in Weimar in 1923 and was undoubtedly inspired by the visual experimentation of this avant-garde school. Both exhibits are not to be missed.

Side note: Also related and on view in the Architecture and Design Collection is Ladislav Sutnar’s Build the Town Building Blocks and Promotional Cards - Blue and Pink versions, the latter of which is available for sale in the Display Bookstore.

Selected Sources:

Text re-purposed from The New Typography exhibition, organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan O’Conner, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design.