Collecting Type

Photo: Irina Lee.

Last week, the Metropolis art department headed up to MoMA to for a panel discussion between the museum’s design curator, Paola Antonelli and two renowned type designers, Matthew Carter (2010 MacArthur Grant recipient) and Jonathan Hoefler. The event was presented by the AIGA. MoMA recently acquired 23 typefaces for its collection, which are part of the new exhibition, Standard Deviation.

We went to the event that night wondering how a museum acquires a typeface. “We just buy it—or if they’re nice, they give it to us,” Antonelli simply said. But the process is a bit more complex than that. To choose what should go into the collection, Antonelli gathered experts from around the world, including graphic design critics, designers, and historians. Their choices range stylistically from Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum’s FF Beowolf to Hoefler Frere-Jones’s Gotham (which we all know and love/loathe from Obama’s presidential campaign).

She reminded the inquisitive audience that it is not the museum’s objective to give the historical record of design; this is, after all, the Museum of Modern Art. Well, then, what is modern? Modern is everything that does not hide the process of its making. This definition comes from Kurt Varnedoe, the museum’s chief curator of painting and sculpture till 2003, and Antonelli keeps it in mind each time she curates a show.

Now I’m eager to check out the exhibition and learn the design process of the 23 chosen ones. This collection, said Antonelli, is only the beginning. She will be adding more typefaces and is open to suggestions. What would you add?

To read more about Paola Antonelli’s thoughts on Matthew Carter’s Verdana typeface, check out Essential Designs in April’s Metropolis.

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