Aurora Donzelli

Conspicuous transparencies. Graphic design, immaterial capitalism, and curatorial debates in a contemporary art foundation

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Keywords: graphic ideologies, metasemiotic anxieties, curatorial practices, ethnography of art and art workers, professional subjectivities of contemporary capitalism

This paper contributes to the recent interest in the material aspects of signification by developing an ethnographic-cum-theoretical reflection on the cultural assumptions underlying the visual materiality of written language. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in a contemporary art foundation, the author examines the role of graphic design and typographic choices within experts’ curatorial practices. Although typeface designers often proclaim that, to ensure legibility, letterforms should be as inconspicuous and unobtrusive as possible, typographic choices are all but neutral. Graphic designers, curators, and cultural publics often have strong opinions regarding the material shape of the written words used in the textual apparatus of art galleries. Their respective graphic ideologies inform radically different approaches to curatorial texts, mobilizing competing forms of sociocultural distinction and professional subjectivity. Though apparently trivial, these typographic debates reflect greater tensions triggered by the growing implication of corporate capitalism and commercial sponsors in the production of cultural events

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