Etel Adnan

Etel Adnan’s visual works feature suns, moons and luminous colors. Her roots as a writer and artist are Lebanese; she grew up in Arab Beirut with Greek and Turkish as her first languages. Her poetry is clear and haunting; it is also political. The texts in her fold-outs stand for what can be said – but she anchors the written words in the inexpressible domain of bright colors. She studied at the Sorbonne, Berkeley and Harvard, which is why she writes in Arabic, French and English. For a long time she lived in Sausalito, California, where she also began to paint.

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Kalimat 2012

Siah Armajani

Already as a teenager, when he was still living in Iran, Siah Armajani (1939 – 2020) worked as a calligrapher and draftsman. ›Panje Tan,‹ a work in Indian ink, means ›The Five.‹ It stands for the Prophet of Islam and his family. As a Christian from an educated and affluent family, Armajani fled Iran in 1960 and settled in the United States, where he developed into a conceptual artist and an influential architect of public art. In 2018/19, he was honored with museum retrospectives in his hometown of Minneapolis and in New York.

Panje Tan (Detail)
Panje Tan (Detail) 1960

Alighiero Boetti

Alighiero Boetti or Alighiero e Boetti (1940 – 1994) was an important initiator of the ›Arte povera‹ movement. In 1968 he used a photo to convey the idea that he himself was a twin. As of 1971, he had ordered embroidered maps with the title ›Mappa‹ to be produced in Afghanistan and later in Pakistan. Initially he was concerned with war zones, then ›Territori occupati.‹ He created a large amount of maps of the world featuring state borders and national flags. More and more, embroiderers were to decide for themselves which colors and fonts to use.

Mappa 1980
© Philipp Ottendörfer

Sam Francis

Sam Francis (1923 – 1994) studied painting in San Francisco and subsequently went to Paris. There he broke away from extensive, monochrome works in favor of islands of color. Inspired by trips to Japan, he developed his idiosyncratic gestural, spontaneous dripping technique, resulting in delicate textures. Due to his affiliation with abstract expressionism, tachism and Japanese calligraphy, he played an important role mediating between the art of the West and the Far East from the mid-1950s on.

Untitled 1957

Hans Hartung

Hans Hartung (1904 – 1989) is a central figure for the idea of Written Art. He developed his abstract vocabulary as a teenager before coming into contact with modern art. Starting in 1935, he called himself a ›Tachist.‹ As a German, he fought against National Socialism in France and lost a leg in World War II. In 1945 he became a French citizen. For him, tachism meant the artistic conquest of fear. From 1948 onwards, Hartung’s art was understood worldwide as contemporary calligraphy. He took part in the documenta three times, beginning in 1955.

T1966-E31 1966

Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer (*1950) has worked on her series of ›War Paintings‹ intensely for years. Turning to government documents in 2004 after the invasion of Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom, she aimed to reconstruct the path to war through the language of its architects and executors. Her canvases reproduce documents originating from various US government agencies. They feature statements by witnesses, interrogators, soldiers, and government officials. The documents were redacted by the US government before being released to the general public.

I am writing sap green (Text US Government)
I am writing sap green (Text US Government) 2006

On Kawara

In 1963, the Japanese artist On Kawara (1932 – 2014) was one of the first to produce art with writing according to strict conceptual guidelines. In the 1950s in Japan he was still working figuratively. With the words ›Nothing, Something, Everything‹ a change was set into motion. Since then, he has evoked ideas of time and human existence with letters and numbers. These were left unexplained. They were painted or printed on paper with a typewriter or stamp.

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JUNE 1, 1967
JUNE 1, 1967
© One Million Years Foundation

Morita Shiryū

Morita Shiryū (1912 – 1998) is one of the most important Japanese artists of the post-war period. In lively collaboration with American and French artists, he strove to promote Shodō, the ›way of writing,‹ as a contemporary artistic means of expression and as a philosophy. In 1963 he wrote: ›The movement of the Shō is carried out by the brush filled with Indian ink.‹ For him, the merging of the characters with the surface of the picture in the act of writing produced a holistic global experience.

Ryu wa Ryu o Shiru
Ryu wa Ryu o Shiru 1969

Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat (born 1957 in Qvazvin, Iran) is currently the best-known Iranian artist. She grew up in a liberal Muslim family. During the Shah’s rule, she went to the USA as a schoolgirl, accompanied by her sister. When she returned to Iran for the first time in 1990, the political changes in her country triggered a cultural shock in her. The Islamic Republic did not allow Neshat to stay in her homeland. New York became her diaspora.

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Malaksima 2015

Qiu Zhijie

›Mapping,‹ says the Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie (born 1969) — meaning the design and artistic representation of maps — is one of his most important activities. He has already executed hundreds of ›maps,‹ not one of which solely depicts an existing world. Themes and research are his principal focus. Qiu is a trained calligrapher who relates writing and images, the Chinese and English languages, to fictional landscapes. His commissioned work ›24 World Maps‹ is an attempt to reflect upon all areas of human knowledge.

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Map of Art and Everyday Life
Map of Art and Everyday Life 2015-2017

Kazuo Shiraga

Kazuo Shiraga (1924 – 2008) was the most prominent member of the Japanese Gutai group. In 1956 Life magazine photographed him painting with his feet on a swing. For Americans, he was responding to Jackson Pollock’s ›drip‹ paintings. A Gutai manifesto published shortly afterwards in Tokyo recorded Shiraga’s technical method. The aim was to combine the physicality of paint with the dynamism of his own mind. Shiraga himself spoke of a ›proof of life.‹ Already in 1958, Gutai art was shown in New York.

Tenku 2003

Lawrence Weiner

The work of Lawrence Weiner (1942 – 2021) explores the power of words and short sentences to trigger imaginative responses. Subjects and ideas are evoked, sometimes in the form of what appear to be cryptic appeals. In 2013, ›The Grace of a Gesture‹ was transported on Venetian vaporetti up and down the Grand Canal, its unitive message displayed in ten different languages. Simultaneously, the work was shown as a ›Collateral Event‹ of the Venice Biennale in an exhibition room near the Rialto Bridge. For Weiner, ›everything is essentially based on writing as it is essentially based on meaning.‹

The Grace of a Gesture
The Grace of a Gesture 2013
© Written Art Collection \ Philipp Ottendörfer

Yū-ichi Inoue

Yū-ichi Inoue (1916 – 1985), who worked as a primary school teacher in Tokyo throughout his life, was a trained calligrapher and heard about the main currents of abstract art in the USA and Western Europe. In the mid-1950s he developed his own technique with broom-like brushes made from tufts of dry grass. The idea was to create legible characters with the maximum artistic energy. From 1954 on, his large-format ink paintings were presented in many museum exhibitions that compared Japanese calligraphy with Western abstraction.

Ha-Ha Mutter
Ha-Ha Mutter 1962