Lenore Tawney

Work / Miscellaneous

Exhibition: Smithsonian’s archive shows handwriting of famous artists

It seems somewhat rich of me to sit here at a computer tapping away at a keyboard writing an article about how handwriting is a lost art. But, I am, and it is, and the current Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art exhibition on the handwriting of influential artists warrants no less of a wildly hypocritical gesture.

The show gives viewers the rare occasion to nose at what Lee Krasner wrote in her last letter to Jackson Pollock before his untimely death, and to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s swirly script in notes to Cady Wells. Even better, each of the forty-two letters in the show has also been documented in a digital archive which is available to view in its entirety online, alongside a short analysis of each artist’s character by handwriting experts. Isamu Noguchi, Marcel Duchamp and Willem de Kooning are all up there, with doodles, tiny drawings, collage and some painfully telling grammatical techniques; Lee Krasner’s heartbreaking parenthesis “(How are you, Jackson?)” at the foot of her lengthy report on the state of Paris’ art scene seems to divulge decades of sadness and torment at the hands of her lover, for example. The commentary is no less interesting, pairing up what we already know about these leading figures in the art world with wild estimations judged from how they dot their i’s and cross their t’s. A nosy note-writer’s dream.

The Art of Handwriting is at the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture until October 27.


Left: Georgia O’Keeffe to Cady Wells, Right: H.C. Westerman


Maxfield Parrish to Martin Birnbaum


Left: Hanne Darboven, Right: Marcel Duchamp


Eero Saarinen to Aline Saarinen


Left: Ray Johnson, Right: Lee Krasner to Jackson Pollock