Herbert Bayer

Recognition

1970 AIGA Medal

Born

1900, Haag am Hausruck, Austria

Deceased

1985, Montecito, California

Recognized for his mastery as an architect, painter, and designer

Over the past century, Herbert Bayer has been many things to many disciplines. Graphic designers regard his type work and innovative modernist flair. In photography circles, he is known for groundbreaking montages. The city of Aspen knows him as a key figure in more or less creating its modern image. And then there’s his legendary output in exhibition design, advertising, painting, and on and on. With his considerable range—and the brilliance imbued in his many pursuits—Bayer fits the classic definition of the creative polymath, and perhaps even looms large over it.

Born in 1900 in Haag, Austria, he dreamed of becoming a painter. When he was 19, he served as apprentice to architect Georg Schmidthammer in Linz, and subsequently worked as an assistant to Berlin-based architect Emmanuel Josef Margold at the Darmstadt artists’ colony. And then came the period that most often defines Bayer, despite occupying a relatively brief time frame in his life: the Bauhaus.

Lured by artist and Bauhaus instructor Wassily Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art and general chatter about a new school in Weimar, Germany, Bayer enrolled in 1921 and studied mural painting. His interests quickly blossomed, and his talent became obvious—especially to his instructors. László Moholy-Nagy encouraged Bayer to experiment with his typography, and his output included the ninth Bauhaus book, Kandinsky’s 1926 book Point and Line to Plane, and a hyper-inflated banknote subsequently used by the post-World War I German government in 1923.

After finishing his studies in 1923, Bayer, a mountaineering enthusiast since childhood, hiked Italy and worked as a house painter before returning to the Bauhaus as director of printing and advertising—appointed by school founder Walter Gropius. Bayer taught design, typography, and advertising, while simultaneously creating his experimental Universalschrift, also known as Universal Type and Universal Alphabet. A revolutionary design in an era of German blackletter types, Universal consisted entirely of sans serif lowercase characters. Although Universal Type was never produced as a working typeface during the Bauhaus years, digital revivals by contemporary foundries are available.

Describing Universal Type in the Museum of Modern Art’s Bauhaus: 1919–1928 catalog, Bayer notes, “Why should we write and print with two alphabets? Both a large and a small sign are not necessary to indicate one single word. We do not speak a capital ‘A’ and a small ‘a.’ We need only a single alphabet.” It would define the aesthetic of the Bauhaus.

The face, and Bayer’s typographic work at large, was a revelation and revolutionary influence on designers in Europe and across the Atlantic. As Josef Müller-Brockmann writes in Print magazine’s January/February 1969 issue, “Bayer’s sovereign and unerring sure use of typographic means is amazing. He freed typefaces and composition from all picturesqueness and from the excessive use of typographic symbols.”

Moreover, “Bayer’s early accomplishments alone suffice to make him one of the 20th century’s essential pioneers in the field of visual communication.” Yet Bayer’s Bauhaus work should not be regarded as the singular pinnacle of the polymath, but rather recognized for its great influence on the rest of his career.

“The Bauhaus gave me clear principles for the creative process, a practical way of working, and an all-inclusive attitude toward the disciplines of the arts,” Bayer writes in the introduction to Arthur A. Cohen’s definitive look at Bayer’s life and output, Herbert Bayer: The Complete Work. “I left the Bauhaus in order to move away from theory to practice.”

In 1928 that practice took the form of a relocation to Berlin and a gig, from 1929–1930, as the art director of the German edition of Vogue,, followed by an invitation to work as an autonomous art director at the Dorland advertising agency. Bayer also expanded his oeuvre by delving into the new world of exhibition design. He worked alongside Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Marcel Breuer, and others to design an exhibition of the Deutscher Werkbund (German Association of Craftsmen) for the 20th Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, held at the Grand Palais in Paris, from May through July 1930; the Werkbund exhibition was known as Section Allemande. This assignment led to others, including a 1930 exhibit for the Berthold Type Foundry, which would later release the face Bayer-type in 1933.

Over the next decade in Berlin, Bayer worked on an immense variety of projects, incorporating photography into his portfolio and making his own mark on that medium.

The politics in Germany at the time and the ascendance of Adolf Hitler bring about a period of Bayer’s life that is often glossed over or simply absent in the artist’s biographies. A duality came to the fore: One in which Bayer produced government materials, such as the 1936 Deutschland Ausstellung brochure, which celebrated life in the Reich and the country’s military ambitions during the time of the Berlin Olympics; and the other in which the Nazis, known for despising Modernism and the Bauhaus in particular, declared two of Bayer’s pieces to be “degenerate art” in 1937, and featured them in a show alongside works by Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, and many others. As his friends left the country, Bayer regarded himself as “apolitical,” and later stated that he worked on the government materials because he had no choice in the matter.

Eventually Bayer wanted out. His wife and daughter were Jewish, and there is no evidence of Bayer being sympathetic to Nazism. In 1938, the annexation of Austria into Germany forcibly changed his status from Austrian resident to German national, and accelerated his decision to emigrate. Nominated by his former Bauhaus colleagues, he gladly took the offer from MoMA founding director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., in 1938, to leave Germany and come to the U.S. to design the Bauhaus: 1919–1928 exhibition.

Milton Glaser, who has touted Bayer as one of his role models, told Print, “Herbert Bayer was an important transitional figure in bringing European ideas to the U.S. Rand got the idea, but Bayer lived it—he was really a European. Paul Rand made it American—there was a translation of what made it from Bayer to Rand that made it interesting.”

The Bauhaus exhibition subsequently opened to rave reviews, both about its content and its design, which generated more commissions for Bayer. As the years went by in New York, he created work for numerous magazines and publishers, and flourished in advertising at John Wanamaker, J. Walter Thompson, and Dorland International.

Bayer’s flair for exhibition design eventually led him to meet industrialist Walter P. Paepcke in 1945, a seminal moment that would define the next three decades of Bayer’s life—and earn him a collaborator, friend, and champion in Paepcke. Paepcke asked Bayer to design Container Corporation of America’s (CCA) Modern Art in Advertising exhibition, which he did. Later in the year, Paepcke invited Bayer to Colorado and showed him the sleepy mining town of Aspen. Paepcke saw huge potential in Aspen as a ski and outdoor-excursion destination, and he wanted Bayer’s help in creating it. He offered him the job of consultant to CCA and the Aspen initiative.

After the captivating visit, Bayer moved west in 1946. Bayer hit the ground running. He began to craft the community’s aesthetic with a color scheme for houses. He created promotional materials and brand items. He designed the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. With “Marble Garden” and “Earth Mound,” he built remarkable sculptural and landscape pieces. He designed infrastructure for CCA, including factories and paper mills, and launched the iconic “Great Ideas of Western Man” ad campaign.

“While Bayer helped turn Aspen into a ‘Bauhaus for the corporate mind,’ Aspen turned Bayer into a celebrant of mountains whose visionary powers recall, despite their different interpretations, such 19th-century giants of landscape painting as Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt,” Jan van der Marck writes in Herbert Bayer: From Type to Landscape. “Herbert Bayer needed Aspen not just because it enabled him to reconnect with his Alpine roots, but even more importantly, because Aspen provided the optimum conditions for his fertile mind to spring into full bloom.”

All the while, he spent years in the 1950s creating one of his most profound achievements: the World Geo-Graphic Atlas, which CCA commissioned for its 25th anniversary. Bayer traveled the world to study maps and collect data, and the resulting atlas—blending photography, free drawings, renderings, and more—was dubbed by Cohen to be “a masterpiece of cartographic clarity.”

Following Paepcke’s death, Bayer’s tenure with CCA came to a close in 1965. But in Aspen, a new patron and champion emerged: Robert O. Anderson, chairman of Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO). Anderson was no stranger to Aspen or Bayer, having provided funding for the city’s development, in addition to being active in the Aspen Institute. In a partnership that would last until his death in 1985, Bayer worked for Anderson as art and design consultant for Atlantic Richfield.

In his role, he was responsible for overseeing the company’s entire aesthetic output, from brand marks, to designing its offices, to managing and acquiring materials for its legendary art collection, which was said to be the world’s largest corporate cache at the time.

Throughout his career, Bayer kept up with his painting—which he noted was not simply a hobby, but rather a key exercise in creativity that fueled the rest of his professional output. The painting continued, as did the rest of his endeavors, well beyond his move from Aspen to Montecito, California, in 1974.

In honoring Bayer, the key is not to focus solely on his Bauhaus years, nor his advertising years, nor his Aspen projects. Rather, one must view each element like pieces in a mosaic, greater than the sum of its many parts.

Despite his prolific portfolio, it’s hard to find direct insights from Bayer into his polymath genius. Perhaps it was because Bayer was simply just always about the work. As Cohen writes: “Bayer has talked little and made much.”


Timeline:

1900 Bayer is born in Haag am Hausruck, Austria

1912 Family relocates to Linz, Austria

1917–1918/1919 Serves in the Austrian Army

1919 Apprentices under architect George Schmidthammer in Linz

1920 Moves to Germany and serves as assistant to architect Emmanuel Josef Margold at Darmstadt

1921–1923 Enrolls at the Weimar Bauhaus and completes program

1925–1928 Teaches at the relocated Bauhaus in Dessau

1925–1930 Creates experimental Universal Type (a.k.a. Universal Alphabet)

1925 Marries Chicago-born Bauhaus student and photographer Irene Hecht

1929–1930 Leaves the Bauhaus and serves as art director of German Vogue

1928–1938 Serves as art director at Dorland agency’s Berlin offices

1929 Birth of only child, Julia Alexandra Bayer

1932 Separates from Irene Hecht Bayer

1937 Nazis feature two of Bayer’s works in Degenerate Art exhibition

1938 Leaves Germany for New York City to create the Bauhaus 1919–1928 exhibition; arrives in New York City in August; meets Joella Haweis Levy shortly afterwards; Bayer’s wife and daughter arrive in December

1941–1942 Serves as consultant art director for John Wanamaker

1942 Joella Haweis divorces her husband, art dealer Julien Levy

1944 Serves as consultant art director for J. Walter Thompson; divorces Irene Hecht in October; marries Joella Haweis in December

1945 Becomes art director of Dorland International

1946 Moves cross-country to Aspen, Colorado; serves as consultant designer to Container Corporation of America (CCA) and Aspen’s development

1953 Releases World Geo-Graphic Atlas

1955 Builds environmental sculptures “Earth Mound” and “Marble Garden”

1956 Appointed director of design department at CCA

1959 Designs fonetik alfabet

1963 Bayer’s daughter, Julia, dies of a brain aneurysm at age 34

1965 Retires from CCA

1966 Joins Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) as consultant for all design output; is also placed in charge of acquisition and management of company art collection

1967 Designs 50 Years of Bauhaus traveling exhibition

1968–1974 Creates interior art, fountains, and other works for Atlantic Richfield offices across the U.S.

1974 Moves to Montecito, California, where he continues to paint and design

1984 The MIT Press releases Arthur A. Cohen’s comprehensive monograph Herbert Bayer: The Complete Work

1985 Bayer dies in Montecito, California


Sources:

Bayer, Herbert. “A Statement for an Individual Way of Life.” Print, May/June 1962.

Bayer, Herbert and Gropius, Walter; Gropius, and Ise Gropius. Bauhaus: 1919–1928. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1938.

Cohen, Arthur A. Herbert Bayer: The Complete Work. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1984.

Dover, Caitlin. “Milton Glaser Talks About His Role Models.” Print, 2010.

Maggio, Catherine; Maryman, Brice. “Herbert Bayer.” The Cultural Landscape Foundation, date unknown.

Mills, Mike. “A Very Messy History: Herbert Bayer’s Emigration to the U.S.” AIGA Journal Vol. 9, No. 3, 1991.

Müller-Brockmann, Josef. “Herbert Bayer: The Bauhaus Tradition.” Print, January/February 1969.

van der Marck, Jan. Herbert Bayer: From Type to Landscape. Boston: Nimrod Press, 1977.


This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.