Typographic Experimentation in Dadaism and Futurism

JUNE 19, 2018, 5–6:30pm



Join via EventBrite or email Bea and Gina.


Gina DeCagna

Primary Text

Drucker, Johanna. “Typographic Manipulation of the Poetic Text in the Early Twentieth Century Avant Garde.” Visible Language 25, no. 2/3 (1991): 231–256. [Link to PDF.]


How do typographic form and the spatial considerations of a page play into a reader’s comprehension? Historically, artists and writers in the first two decades of the twentieth century experimented irreverently with letterform, exaggerating graphic elements through eccentric sizing and placement, varied orientation of lines on a page, and collaging small images. In many ways, this experimentation threatened the presumed authority of the literary text, blurring the demarcation between advertising and high arts practices in the conceptual space of the book.

Using “Typographic Manipulation of the Poetic Text” by scholar Johanna Drucker as a central essay of our discussion, we can proceed to trace Drucker’s arguments and further them with our own critiques regarding the hierarchy of “relations among aesthetic principles, linguistic meaning, political strategies, and visual representation”—using Dada and Futurist typography evidenced via F.T. Marinetti, Guillaume Apollinaire, Tristan Tzara, Wyndham Lewis, and Ilia Zdanevich from 1909 to 1923.


What are some of the differing ways these avant-garde figures approached the materiality of the text? How were they revolutionizing textual forms? How can we incorporate their methods of experimentation and thinking to breath new life into our own visual or literary writing practices?

Typographic experiments in one’s own work in preparation for this meeting are highly encouraged!


On F.T. Marinetti: MOMA’s Collection, The Futurist Manifesto, Guggenheim’s Futurist Performance and F. T. Marinetti, The Futurist Cookbook

On Guillaume Apollinaire: Poetry Foundation, “Surreal Lives” by Ruth Brandon, Academy of American Poets

On Tristan Tzara: The International Dada Archive (University of Iowa), Dadaism (Penn English), MOMA’s Inventing Abstraction: 1910–1925, MOMA’s Collection

On Wyndham Lewis: Art UK, Tate Collection

On Ilia Zdanevich: Monoskop,  The Pushkin State Museum of the Fine Arts

Additional Readings

Johanna Drucker’s The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909-1923 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014)

Johanna Drucker’s The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination (London: Thames and Hudson, 1995)




Institute of Contemporary Art, Library, 118 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104