The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2012

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SEPT 2012 Issue

TAUBA AUERBACH, “How to Spell the Alphabet”
Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language

On View
Museum Of Modern Art
May 6 – August 27, 2012
New York

Tauba Auerbach’s “How to Spell the Alphabet” is an ink and pencil drawing on pale pink paper. It is 30 inches tall and 22 inches wide. Completed in 2005, the drawing is currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art in the Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language exhibition. In it a cluster of crimson shapes aligned in nine rows, each a different length, occupies the center of the composition. From a distance the drawing gives the appearance of a jagged oval.

Tauba Auerbach, “How to Spell the Alphabet,” (2005). Ink and pencil on paper, 30 x 22”. Private collection. © Tauba Auerbach. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

There are 77 shapes altogether. They are all outlined with pencil, their interior spaces saturated with red ink. In a few instances the ink bleeds beyond the boundaries of the outline, though it is more often constrained within the borders. The pencil marks are faint; they are hardly noticeable two steps back from the drawing.

These small red shapes are made up of short lines that angle, bend, or run straight. Each line is about an eighth of an inch thick. Of the total number of shapes, 25 are unique. The most frequently occurring figuration is drawn with four lines: three horizontal bands emerge at perpendicular angles from the right side of a vertical line. The top and bottom bands are equal in length while the middle band is much shorter. The horizontal lines are equidistant, or close to it. There is another shape that looks similar to the one described, except it does not have the fourth line on the bottom. It looks like this: “F.”

The gaps between the rows are half the height of the shapes, which are the same height if they belong to the same row, although the heights of all the shapes are not consistent. The first three rows are the shortest, while the last six are taller. However, the difference is slight.

Within each row, shapes are grouped together. In the first row, for example, five shapes are divided into two sets of pairs and triplets. Small red dots separate one grouping from the next. No two rows are arranged quite the same.

Regardless of its form, each shape assumes a unique spatial relationship among the negative space it creates. For example, when a linear shape is set beside a round shape, the curve appears accentuated by the rigid straightness it is nested beside. Parallel lines become immediately visible when linear shapes are neighbors, whereas a pair of canted shapes forms an angled negative space. Most shapes are symmetrical along the horizontal or vertical axie.

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The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2012

All Issues