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McEvoy Foundation for the Arts opening What are words worth?, last exhibition before permanently closing

Ed Ruscha, Idea, 1976. Pastel on paper. McEvoy Family Collection. © Ed Ruscha.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.-McEvoy Foundation for the Arts announces What are words worth? (June 16 – September 2, 2023), a survey of the expansive holdings of artworks in the McEvoy Family Collection that engage language, journalism, literature, and typography. The exhibition is McEvoy Arts’ closing program and the last of over a dozen innovative exhibitions presented since its founding in 2017.

The exhibition’s title, What are words worth?, is a lyric borrowed from the Tom Tom Club’s 1981 song Wordy Rappinghood that references the poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850). Susan Miller, Executive Director at McEvoy Arts, states “The play on words of this lyric, and the song’s study of words as both form and subject, are reflective of the multi-layered way in which language is represented in this exhibition. The playful nod to Wordsworth sets up the dialogue across the artworks about poetry and its ability to stimulate imagination and creative thinking.”

Wordsworth, an iconic English Romantic, said poetry “takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Centuries later, LET IT COME LET IT GO (2017), by poet and visual artist John Giorno, channels a connection between Buddhism and poetry, both of which Giorno describes as best practiced “by developing the ability to see what arises in one’s mind.”

“Words exist as tangible sensory experiences,” notes Amanda Nudelman, Exhibitions and Public Programs Curator at McEvoy Arts, “but their meaning lives in our minds. Many of the works in the exhibition play in the blurry space between where words are seen as visual symbols and understood by the concepts they represent.”

Displaying a rich survey of the text-based work within the McEvoy Family Collection, What are words worth? includes modern and contemporary photographs, paintings, and prints. Featured within the exhibition is an expanded presentation of works by one of the collection’s quintessential artists, Natalie Czech (b. 1976), a German photographer known for her visual and textual images that cleverly locate poems in everyday objects such as shopping bags, newspapers, and vinyl album covers. Among the works on view by Czech, A poet’s question by Allen Ginsberg 2 (2019) samples a passage from the Beat poet’s 1963 concrete poem, “I Beg of You to Come Back & Be Cheerful” and then highlights and remakes the text, using fabric and graphite pencils, into a new image that references the Czech Republic’s national flag within the triangular form of the Ginsberg poem.

Mitchell Anderson’s 2017 oversized Kennedy campaign button is a painting that calls forth the evocative power of an iconic graphic. Ilse Bing’s Scandale (1947) and Lee Friedlander’s New Orleans (1975) are examples of a tradition in street photography that targets the advertising, signs, and text in the world around us.

Ed Ruscha’s pastel drawing, Idea (1976), muses on the word, its meaning, the letters it comprises, and the object the word itself represents. Speechless (2017), by Lorna Simpson, shows an image of a model’s face crowned with a hairstyle made of a collage of text in a curious statement about voice and femininity.

The exhibition is joined by a program of film and video shorts screened daily in McEvoy Arts’ Screening Room and several public events, all to be announced. The exhibition and Screening Room program are free to the public. Visit for details and gallery hours.

What are words worth? is McEvoy Arts’ final exhibition and is on view from June 16 through September 2, 2023. The foundation permanently closes to the public on September 3, 2023.