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Words by Michel Wlassikoff

Cassandre’s “Bifur”, 1928

The avant-garde alphabet reduced letters to their schematic forms, and served as a model for modernist typography although it lacked commercial success.
The avant-garde alphabet reduced letters to their schematic forms, and served as a model for modernist typography although it lacked commercial success.
Composed entirely of capital letters, the Bifur alphabet designed by Cassandre and published in 1928 by the Deberny et Peignot foundry “reduces [the letter] to a schematic form, to its simplest expression”, to the point of removing what is unnecessary to distinguish it from others. Cassandre seeks to rediscover the monumentality of the lapidary inscription and retains the letter’s mass; he simplifies its architecture, amplifies its geometry, grays or colors the voids, eliminating the line where, suggested by the solid color, it is not essential.
Bifur was not a commercial success, but it did serve as a model and repertoire of forms for the creators who then came together in the Union des Artistes Modernes. Publisher Charles Moreau, a tireless propagandist for the UAM, used it as a title for the albums in the L’Art international d’aujourd’hui collection, which were allocated to the professions of faith of the association’s members. It was precisely under the Bifur banner that Cassandre presented Publicité, number 12 in the series, which is an ode to the international graphic design of its time.
As Charles Peignot recalls: “Cassandre and I, influenced by the spirit of the Dessau school and convinced that typographic design could also be purified, agreed to undertake Bifur.”
Charles Peignot, “Cassandre et la typographie", Médecine de France, no. 198, 1969.
But reactions from the printing and advertising world were generally unfavorable to Cassandre’s modernist type. According to Charles Peignot: “Bifur, if it was a manifesto, was not a brilliant financial operation.”
René Ponot, “Les années 1930 et l’innovation typographique française", Communication et langages, no. 78, 1988.
Cassandre himself presented his Bifur in the magazine Arts et Métiers graphiques: “Bifur is not a decorative typeface. Bifur was conceived like an electric broom or an internal combustion engine, to fulfill a specific function — not to decorate. (…) A letter is originally a pure form, but successively deformed by the sculptor’s chisel, the scribe’s alcoholic quill, the burin of the first printers amazed at imitating this quill with small mechanics. We have tried to restore to this letter everything that was its own, but only its own. If Bifur’s unusual appearance is surprising, it’s not because he’s eccentrically dressed, but because he’s walking naked in a crowd of clothed people. We’ve simply tried to restore the word’s original power as an IMAGE. Reduced to a schematic form, its simplest expression, it can, we believe, become more “photogenic” for our tired retinas. DANGER. — Bifur has been designed, like a railroad signal, to function — absolute stop. If by accident, a clumsy typographer’s error, it doesn’t work — disaster is inevitable. Bifur, an advertising typeface, was designed to print a word, a word alone, a poster word. Blaise Cendrars once replied to a survey on advertising: “May you discover, you who today call upon the literati, the poetic genius who will find the giant, simple word to counterbalance the monster poster of Bébé Cadum over Paris. It was to print this word that Bifur was cast.”
Bifur, caractère de publicité dessiné par AM Cassandre », Arts et Métiers graphiques, nº9, jan 15th, 1929.
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