John Rieben. A Is the First Letter of the Alphabet. Printer: Screen Print Diversified. 1965–66. Lithograph, 50 × 35″ (127 × 88.9 cm). Gift of the designer (not on view)
  • Mezzanine, Education and Research Center

Literacy begins with the alphabet. From the early 20th century to today, modern artists have used the familiar ABC book as a point of departure for diverse themes. In this exhibit, each letter of the alphabet is represented by a publication, revealing the alphabet book as a learning device enjoyed well beyond childhood.

An early example is The Cubies ABC (1913), a satirical look at the Armory Show that introduced modern art to an American audience. A mid-century work is La Une Méthodologie de la nouvelle écriture africaine, “Bété;” L’Alphabet de l’ouest africain (A Methodology of the new African writing, “Bété,” alphabet of West Africa) (2003), a manuscript related to a West African writing system developed by Frédéric Bruly Bouabré in the 1950s. The sequence concludes with contemporary books such as The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! (2007) by cartoonist Roz Chast and polymath Steve Martin.

Organized by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, MoMA Library.

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