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Herbert Bayer (American, born Austria. 1900–1985)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American painter, designer, photographer and typographer, of Austrian birth. After serving in the Austrian army (1917–18), he studied architecture under Professor Schmidthammer in Linz in 1919 and in 1920 worked with the architect Emanuel Margold in Darmstadt. From 1921 to 1923 he attended the Bauhaus in Weimar, studying mural painting (with Vasily Kandinsky) and typography; it was at this time that he created the Universal alphabet, consisting only of lower-case letters. In 1925 he returned to the Bauhaus, then in Dessau, as a teacher of advertising, layout and typography, remaining there until 1928. For the next ten years he was based in Berlin as a commercial artist: he worked as art manager of Vogue (1929–30) and as director of the Dorland advertising agency. Shortly after his first one-man exhibitions at the Galerie Povolotski, Paris, and at the Kunstlerbund März, Linz (both 1929), he created photomontages of a Surrealist nature, such as Hands Act (1932; see Cohen, p. 270).

In 1938 Bayer emigrated to the USA. Until 1945 he worked in New York as a commercial artist, exhibition designer, painter, sculptor and maker of environments. He became the leading art adviser for John Wanamaker and J. Walter Thompson, and director of art and design for Dorland International. His first one-man show in the USA took place at Black Mountain College, NC, in 1939, and he was represented in a number of important exhibitions at MOMA, New York, including Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (1936), Bauhaus: 1919–28 (1938) and Art and Advertising Art (1943). In 1946 he moved to Aspen, CO, where he worked as design consultant for the development of Aspen, responsible for architectural projects such as the Walter Paepcke Memorial building, Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (1963; see Cohen, p. 322). He also worked for the Container Corporation of America (CCA) in Chicago, first as consultant designer (1945–56) and then as Chairman of the Department of Design (1956–65). He designed and edited the World Geographic Atlas for the CCA between 1948 and 1953 and was art and design consultant for the Atlantic Richfield Company in 1966. He moved to Montecito, CA, in 1976.

Although Bayer considered himself primarily a painter, it was only in the early 1960s that he began to exhibit more consistently. Throughout his career he combined geometric and organic abstract forms in an imaginatively suggestive way in works such as Colorado (oil mural, 1948–67; Denver, CO, A. Mus.). In his photography his approach was similarly anti-narrative, focusing on the geometric abstract formations to be found in the real world, seen for example in Shadows on the Steps (1928; see Cohen, p. 259). The same geometric forms of spheres and cones that appeared frequently in his painting and photography were used in designs for environments, such as the white marble forms of Anaconda (1978; Denver, CO, Anaconda Tower). In his constant belief in the need to integrate all aspects of artistic creativity into the modern industrial world, Bayer was a true spokesman for the Bauhaus ethos, as well as its last surviving master. He was Visiting Artist at the Jerusalem Foundation in 1977 and Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1978.

Monica Bohm-Duchen
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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