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Bea Schlingelhoff’s Font for a Female Future

A show at Max Mayer, Düsseldorf, uses typeface to pay tribute to women artists 

Everything I write, I write in Times New Roman. Of all available typefaces, I opt for the most prevalent. One could argue that such aesthetic decisions are immaterial, but a text will be perceived differently if it’s set in Comic Sans, Helvetica or the monospaced Courier. Content should always suit typeface, and vice versa.

Artist Bea Schlingelhoff has created a number of different typefaces for the content that has been written out of mainstream history. For the series ‘Women Against Hitler’ (2017), she designed fonts dedicated to women who fought against the Nazi regime; for her current exhibition, ‘Assimilation’, at Galerie Max Mayer in Düsseldorf, she has named a typeface after the German expressionist artist Marta Worringer. Worringer grew up in the Rhineland in the early 20th century and, as women were not allowed to enrol in art school at the time, had to study privately. After World War I, however, she became one of the most successful women artists in Germany. But, as with the many women of recent centuries, art history didn’t treat her well, and very few collections contain her work. For ‘Assimilation’, Schlingelhoff has borrowed two drawings from one such collection: the August-Macke-Haus in Bonn. The first, Frauen am Fenster (Women at the Window, 1925), shows two frightened women whose bodies melt together as they embrace; the second is a self-portrait of the artist. The works are hung on either side of a column designed by Schlingelhoff herself, an architectural intervention so subtle that first-time visitors to the gallery would be forgiven for missing it completely.

Bea Schlingelhoff, 'Assimilation', 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

In the same way that they would be forgiven for missing Schlingelhoff’s edit of the street sign that leads to the gallery. Under the name ‘Worringer Straße’ (the actual name of the street), Schlingelhoff has added a plaque, in the same design and typeface, which reads: ‘Marta Worringer, 1881–1965, German artist and sister-in-law of Olga Oppenheim’. At the other end of the street, a second plaque, this one dedicated to another of Marta’s sisters-in-law: ‘Emmy Worringer, 1878–1961, German artist and co-founder of the Gereonsklub’. Worringer Straße was the starting point for ‘Assimilation’. Ahead of the exhibition, Schlingelhoff looked at all streets in Düsseldorf, of which only three percent are named after women, and renamed 455 of them after forgotten as well as famous women artists. Becher Straße becomes Hilla Becher Straße; Oppenheimer Weg, Meret Oppenheim Weg; Hermann Hesse Straße, Eva Hesse Straße.

In the gallery, these street names have been sorted into reverse alphabetical lists and scrawled onto the walls in the Worringer font. Similar to the expressionist typefaces of the 20th century, Schlingelhoff’s is a sans-serif font characterized by certain irregularities reminiscent of handwriting. The capital letter S – emphasized by the frequency of the word ‘Straße’ – is atypically closed. 

Bea Schlingelhoff, 'Assimilation', 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

Schlingelhoff’s decision to arrange the 26 lists from Z to A reflects the desire for an alternative history, of sorts, one in which women will no longer be forgotten or expelled. Such an endeavour is central to much of Schlingelhoff’s work, something evidenced by the equal opportunities contract that galleries and institutions have to sign before exhibiting her work. (The contract opens: ‘We recognize that the majority of art production is an affront to women’s rights’ and closes with a guarantee that, in the event of multiple offers on a single work, female collectors will be prioritized.) By defining her own working and exhibiting conditions, interfering with the gendered history of public space and amending the architecture of both the gallery and, more conceptually, the city as a whole, Schlingelhoff proves that hers is a process of assimilation that goes far beyond the exhibition’s title. It is a speculative blueprint for a socio-political strategy, one that will be written in Times New Woman.

Bea Schlingelhoff, 'Assimilation' runs at Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf, until 27 April 2019.

Main image: Bea Schlingelhoff, 'Assimilation', 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Max Mayer, Düsseldorf

Carina Bukuts is a writer and curator based in Berlin, where she works as the frieze Editorial Trainee. She is the co-founder of the online magazine PASSE-AVANT.

Issue 204

First published in Issue 204

June - July - August 2019
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