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CATEGORY: MAGRITTE: THE MYSTERY OF THE ORDINARY

Posts in ‘Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary’
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Magritte’s The Enchanted Pose, 1927: Palette Unveiled

As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators and conservation scientists have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more

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Magritte’s The Menaced Assassin, 1927—Treatment and Research

As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more

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Lettering Magritte
Title wall of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 at The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Title wall of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 at The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

For most graphic designers, typography is one of the most important, challenging, and seductive parts of graphic design. So when Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture, and curatorial assistant Danielle Johnson, who organized the exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary,1926–1938, suggested incorporating Magritte’s beautiful lettering style—or a version inspired by it—for the title wall design, I was, of course, very excited. I began my work on the project by researching and gathering samples of where Magritte’s lettering appeared, such as in his paintings La Trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), L’Apparition (The Apparition), and Le Masque vide (The Empty Mask).

René Magritte. La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe]). 1929. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013. Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY

René Magritte. La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe]). 1929. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013. Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY

René Magritte. L'apparition (The Apparition). 1928. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 45 11/16" (81 x 116 cm). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. L’apparition (The Apparition). 1928. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 45 11/16″ (81 x 116 cm). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © Charly Herscovici—ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. Le Masque vide The Empty Mask. 1928. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 1/4" (73 x 92 cm). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. Le Masque vide (The Empty Mask). 1928. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 1/4″ (73 x 92 cm). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. © Charly Herscovici—ADAGP—ARS, 2013

There were many variations from one artwork to another: some had greater contrast of thick and thin, others were more condensed, and there were perceptible shifts in stroke weight—largely due to the proportion of sizes between the brush and the letters he was drawing. Yet, it surprised me to see how incredibly consistent his letterforms were. The letter “p,” for example, the most notably unique character in his alphabet, always had an open counter, and looked like an “n” with a prolonged stem. The end of the letter “s” consistently looped inwards into a soft twirl that finished with a small, delicate node.

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Detail of the letters “p” and “s” from a Magritte painting

To say that my first attempts were not quite there is an understatement.

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The author’s lettering experients

It took dozens of variations, testing, tweaks, and just plain old graphic designer obsession to get it to a point that felt right and captured the elegant, rhythmic, and gestural quality of Magritte’s original lettering. When I got stuck on how to resolve a particular transition between letters—for example, between the “B” and “r” in Brussels—I would go back to my research and sure enough, Magritte was there to give me a helping hand.

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Detail of the letters “b” and “r” from a Magritte painting

My finished lettering is used in five places throughout the exhibition. Taken out of it’s familiar context in Magritte’s paintings, it now functions as signage that both guides visitors through the galleries and draws them in.

Close up of the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

The exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Detail of lettering on the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Detail of lettering on the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Close up views of lettering in the exhibition galleries

Close-up views of lettering in the exhibition galleries. Shown: René Magritte. The Menaced Assassin. Brussels, 1927. Oil on canvas, 59 1/4″ x 6′ 4 7/8″ (150.4 x 195.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © 2013 Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Martin Seck

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The Discovery of Magritte’s The Enchanted Pose

As indicated in the previous post in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926–1938. Read more

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The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Halloween at my high school was never boring. The classic 1980 movie Fame was inspired by NYC’s La Guardia HS, and was pretty accurate: you would indeed hear gospel singing in a music room above you during homeroom, see young actors heatedly rehearsing scenes in the hallways, and the art students—ah, the art students. I knew them well as I was among them. Some were mind-bogglingly prodigious, and perhaps as a result, Halloween proved to be a way to show off the skillz that would surely later in life pay the billz. Case in point: Tristan Elwell’s costume one year.

When I saw the above photo again after lo, so many years (please also note the existence of not one, not two, but three mullets behind Tristan), I felt the inevitable surge of nostalgia, and also a sense of synchronicity. The Magritte exhibition had just begun, and as such my head was full of green apples and bowler hats.

I found myself wondering what other Magritte-ian things were out there. As it so happens, Anne and Danielle, the curators of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926­–1938, had already done their own Internet searching and found several clever and charming things like this:

Hilary B Price, Rhymes with Orange, “Magritte Arrives Home”

Hilary B. Price, Rhymes with Orange, “Magritte Arrives Home

And this:

Of course, people aren’t only riffing on The Son of Man.* The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) is equally well-known, if not more so.

In fact, even the cover of the book I was reading at the time happened to reflect this beloved painting.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, 2011 Picador Edition, cover illustration by Paul Slater

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, 2011 Picador Edition, cover illustration by Paul Slater

But I have to admit this last one, inspired by the spooky and haunting The Lovers, is my favorite of these. Not as spooky and haunting as the real thing, but not exactly a laugh riot, either, these parking lot lovers managed to create their own work of art. And as we all know, Plastic Bags Are Not a Toy. How riskily romantic of them!

Michael Kauffmann, The Lovers, 2012

Michael Kauffmann. The Lovers. 2012

And then I stumbled upon Andrea K. Scott’s article in the New Yorker, in which she declared “Magritte’s art has been hijacked…from the Beatles’ record label to a Volkswagen ad to a bowler-hat light fixture.” Hijacked is a strong word, Ms. Scott! After all, Magritte’s art isn’t the first to inspire inventive takeoffs.

See a few more Magritte tributes on our recently launched MoMA Tumblr.

* Son of Man is not on view in MoMA’s current exhibition, as it was painted in 1964, after Magritte’s breakthrough years. However, The Lovers and The Treachery of Images (This Is Not a Pipe) are.

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Revealing the Mystery of Magritte’s Materials and Techniques
From left to right: Conservators Michael Duffy, Anny Aviram, and Cindy Albertson, and Curator Anne Umland in MoMA's Paintings Conservation Lab with René Magritte’s The False Mirror, The Palace of Curtains, III, and The Portrait

From left to right: Conservators Michael Duffy, Anny Aviram, and Cindy Albertson, and Curator Anne Umland in MoMA’s paintings conservation lab with René Magritte’s The False Mirror; The Palace of Curtains, III; and The Portrait

In his polemical 1938 speech “La Ligne de vie (Lifeline),” René Magritte spoke of his “objective representation of objects,” claiming that, “In my view, this detached way of representing things is characteristic of a universal style in which the manias and minor preferences of the individual no longer play any part.” Read more