new-york

Robert Walser and Joan Nelson

Swiss Institute / CONTEMPORARY ART

Both the young American painter Joan Nelson and the Modernist Swiss writer Robert Walser seem drawn to the miniature as if to the vanishing point in a composition: to the idea that a sign or a mark gains in significance the closer it comes to disappearing.

A novelist, poet, and author of myriad short-prose pieces, Walser early on in his career met the exacting standards of such fellow writers as Robert Musil and Franz Kafka. In the decade prior to committing himself to an asylum, he composed his drafts in pencil on found pieces of paper—receipts, business cards, envelopes, postcards—in a hand so insanely minute that it has taken two Germanists 12 years just to begin deciphering these “microscripts.”

Mounted behind Plexiglas and accompanied by translations and scholarly tracts, this selection of Walser’s texts looked like a library display destroyed by some alarming, scriptlike

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