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Notations: Out of Words

November 24, 2006–June 24, 2007

Gathering works of art in which words are conceived not only as communicational tools but also as visual and physical things in themselves, this exhibition highlights objects from the collection from the 1960s to the present—including the recent acquisition, Georges Adéagbo's Abraham—L'ami de Dieu (Abraham—Friend of God). Conceptual works, pieces in which visual and verbal signs are organized around a narrative, and works in which words signify through both their linguistic meaning and their pictorial and material nature are all presented.

From large, cursive, pink neon and thickly stenciled black paint to more intimately scaled printed texts and handwritten notes, the range of mediums in these objects points out the importance of the use of texts in contemporary art. Combining words and images in inventive ways, many of the works on view also call attention to language as a source of power and challenge audiences to renegotiate conventional divisions between the visual and the verbal.

This exhibition takes its title from a partial quotation from Wallace Stevens's poem "Men Made Out of Words."

Men Made Out of Words

What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human revery or poem of death?

Castratos of moon-mash—Life consists
Of propositions about life. The human

Revery is a solitude in which
We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,

By the terrible incantations of defeats
And by the fear that defeats and dreams are one.

The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.

Wallace Stevens

The Notations Series

"Notations" is an ongoing series of gallery installations named after the 1968 book by American composer, writer, and visual artist John Cage, who was widely celebrated for his experimental approach to the arts. Cage's Notations was an international and interdisciplinary anthology of scores by avant-garde musicians, with contributions from visual artists and writers. At the same time, it was an exhibition in book form—in which the scores doubled as drawings. The "Notations" series serves as a flexible tool to explore contemporary art in the Museum's expanding collection, allowing for experimentation with various exhibition alternatives.

Main Building


This project was realized with the generous support of Dennis and Gisela Alter. Additional support was provided by Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz.


Carlos Basualdo • Curator of Contemporary Art
Emily Hage • Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow of Modern and Contemporary Art

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