MoMA
April 1, 2015  |  Collection & Exhibitions
. at MoMA
Artist unknown. .. n.d. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Artist unknown. . (period). n.d. Here displayed in Times New Roman. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design has acquired the . (aka “period,” “hard stop,” or “baseline dot”) into its collection.

As MoMA has proven with its recent acquisition of the “@” symbol, it is more important to recognize major design innovations than it is to actually, you know, possess them, and few things are more deserving of recognition that our concise little friend the ..

If longevity is a sign of good design, then the . is hard to beat: it has more than two millennia of telling people when to stop talking/reading under its belt. Looking for elegance, simplicity, and ease of use? The . is literally a dot! Just look at this one. Or this one. As for utility, just try to imagine reading this post without any .s. Unless you’re a huge Marcel Proust fan, it wouldn’t be much fun.

Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design and director of MoMA’s Research & Development department, reacted to the acquisition with characteristic enthusiasm: “Oh, that little big dot of certainty, of finality, of suspense! So rich in history, from Casanova to Flatland. Ever since we decided to include punctuation among the fundamental categories for MoMA’s collection, I have been obsessed with that dot. Commas come and go, a . is forever.”

WHAT IS A .?

In the third century B.C., Aristophanes of Byzantium developed the .’s great grandfather, the “low dot,” to show orators where to pause for breath. Prior to the low dot’s introduction, orators frequently lost consciousness during speeches because they didn’t know how to stop. Talk about a crucial design intervention! If Socrates has taught us anything, it’s that being a Greek orator is dangerous enough without all that constant fainting.

Aristophanes of Byzantium (Greek, c. 257–c. 185/180 B.C.). Hypostigmḕ (low dot). c. 200 B.C. Here displayed in Verdana. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Aristophanes of Byzantium (Greek, c. 257–c. 185/180 B.C.). Hypostigmḕ (low dot). c. 200 B.C. Here displayed in Verdana. The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Fast forward a couple millennia and you get the stern but friendly little scamp we all know and love. The authors of American Printer and Lithographer (Moore Publishing Company, 1897) put it thusly: “The sentence constitutes the very groundwork of grammar, and is essential to intelligent speech. It represents a complete idea. Its close is indicated by a period or full stop, except when an exclamation or interrogation mark takes its place.”

In other words, no .s, no intelligent speech.

WHY ACQUIRE THE .?

Our reasons, which touch upon the very cornerstones of MoMA’s design collection, are fourfold: utility, aesthetic achievement, typographical evangelism, and budget trimming.

We’ve covered the .’s indespensability, but it is also an aesthetic wonder—so round, so delightfully simple. As Michelle Millar Fisher, curatorial assistant in the Department of Architecture and Design, puts it, the . is “the diamond of the punctuation world, the shining, eternal precious jewel at the end of every non-exclamatory, non-interrogative sentence. It’s almost an abuse to use them with such abandon—but we must.”

In addition, this acquisition proves once and for all that we’re all a bunch of grammatical prescriptivists and typography nerds with axes to grind, and we’ve been given an indispensable soapbox. Mike Abbink, senior creative director in the Department of Advertising and Graphic Design, says, “I was delighted to hear that we acquired only the . and not the two nasty spaces after it that have become so commonplace. Maybe if MoMA acquired both the period and the single space after the period we might have the power to undo a wrong that has plagued modern typography.”

Finally, times are tough all over, and acquiring an intangible entity has real, positive impact on employees and the bottom line. With the . there is no need to deal with “artistic temperaments,” estates, or rights holders; the burden on our registrars and conservators is minimal (there are probably billions of the things just sitting around ending sentences on our website alone); and, best of all, our net expenditure came to approximately zero dollars.

Max Miedinger, Eduard Hoffmann. Some latin text with a period in Helvetica (installation view, sentence). n.d. Image courtesy the designers

Max Miedinger, Eduard Hoffmann. Some Latin text with a period in Helvetica (installation view, sentence). n.d. Image courtesy the designers

So what does MoMA’s acquisition of the . mean? Do we “own” this cornerstone of Romanized script? Luckily, no; just imagine the lawsuits! Simply put, we wanted to make a statement, and you can’t make a statement without a period. Well, you can yell statements and then exclamation points would be appropriate, but we wanted to calmly make a statement.

Moving forward, MoMA embraces the many provocative philosophical and design-related questions raised by this acquisition. (For instance, having acquired the ., can we just string three together to add the ellipsis to the collection?) And, emboldened by this major step, we turn our acquisitive eyes to the future: other works currently under consideration by the Department of Architecture and Design include the wink emoticon, the number 42, the inclined plane, the concept of architecture, and the Comic Sans typeface.

Finally, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet…APRIL FOOLS.