From 1919 to 1933, artists led a revolutionary modernist school in Germany called the Bauhaus. But when pressure from the Nazis forced the Bauhaus to close as World War II approached, its many talented students and teachers fled, taking with them the school’s radical ideas about art, architecture, design and craftsmanship in places around the world. .
Today, Aspen, Colorado is home to a new center that explores the Bauhaus legacy through the lens of one of its most prolific artists, Herbert Bayer.
The new Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies is on the campus of the Aspen Institute, which Bayer designed after moving to Colorado in the 1940s. The center’s first exhibit, “Herbert Bayer: An Introduction,” explores the often underestimated work of the polymath as a painter.
Bayer has left an indelible mark on the small mountain town in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, and on art, architecture, advertising and design more broadly. In addition to preserving Bayer’s legacy in Aspen, the facility is meant to be a living, breathing center for new ideas in art and design, much like the Bauhaus was 100 years ago.
“We want to be more than a museum,” said James Merle Thomas, the center’s executive director. Aspen weather‘ Andrew Travers, adding that the center will be a ‘think tank on how we define community’.
Born in 1900 in Austria, Bayer began drawing at an early age. After serving in World War I, he apprenticed with architect-designers before enrolling in the Bauhaus in 1921. Created two years earlier by architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus amounted to a complete overhaul of the art and design under the German provisional government, the Weimar Republic, which was formed in the aftermath of the First World War.
“What Gropius decided to do was so radical: he merged the craft school and the fine arts school into one,” says Lissa Ballinger, art curator at the Aspen Institute. Smithsonian magazine. “He said there should be no more hierarchy in the arts; art should just be considered art.
The Bauhaus philosophy was “a return to simplicity”, emphasizing practicality, efficiency and accessibility rather than ornamentation and frivolity, adds Ballinger. Primary colors, simple forms, industrial materials and functional forms were all hallmarks of the Bauhaus style.
When Bayer arrived at school, he first studied mural painting under Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. But he quickly expanded his repertoire to include typography, design and other art forms, becoming one of the Bauhaus professors in 1925.
While at the school, Bayer produced many innovative works, including the official Bauhaus typeface: the simple, mostly lowercase font with letters derived from full circles.
Bayer’s influence also extended to advertising; advertisements of the time were generally “wordy,” written with “very decorative and ornate lettering,” says Ballinger. “But Bayer said, ‘I want to be able to communicate a message to someone and I want to be able to communicate clearly. Why would I have ornaments on the letters? »
In 1928 Bayer moved to Berlin, where he spent the next ten years working in design. But as political tensions grew around him, he grew increasingly disgruntled. In 1938, he moved to New York, where he had a fateful encounter with Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke, who was investing heavily in a certain sleepy Colorado town.
“Paepcke knew he had to bring someone here to help lead, promote and decide the future of Aspen,” Ballinger says. “And it’s really interesting that the person he decided to bring here is not an urban planner or an engineer or an architect. It was Herbert Bayer, an artist.
Bayer moved to Aspen in 1946, where he spent the next 30 years working alongside Paepcke to build the city into a world-class destination for skiing, arts and culture. He created clever advertising campaigns and designed the ski resort’s iconic aspen leaf logo, a version of which is still used today. He renovated the city’s historic Wheeler Opera House and the Jerome Hotel, a prominent local landmark, and he built the original Sundeck Warming Hut atop Aspen Mountain.
But Bayer’s biggest project was designing the grounds for the new Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, established by Paepcke in 1950 to bring together leaders, scholars, philosophers, writers and artists to solve the most pressing problems. of the world.
For 20 years, from 1953 to 1973, Bayer worked meticulously on the 40-acre campus. In keeping with the Bauhaus style, the buildings are simple, with windows arranged to highlight the surrounding natural environment. Inside, many rooms are hexagonal or octagonal, which Bayer designed to encourage round tables, Ballinger says.
“He planned every aspect of the campus,” she adds. “That’s what is considered his Total work of art, his total work of art.
During all this time, Bayer remained busy with hundreds of other projects: painting, drawing, sculpture, graphics, producing world atlases and weaving tapestry, among other activities. After suffering a series of heart attacks in 1974, he moved to Montecito, California, where he lived until his death in 1985.
Although he was a prolific creator – the Denver Art Museum alone has more than 8,000 of his works in its permanent collection – Bayer is not as well known as some of his Bauhaus peers. Ballinger attributes this to several factors: Living in Aspen, Bayer was quite removed from the New York art scene. He also had no financial incentive to pursue gallery exhibitions, as he was always supported by patrons.
Importantly, Bayer dabbled in almost every art form imaginable, which has made it difficult for historians and critics to categorize, Ballinger says. In Aspen, however, where travelers and locals can still find traces of Bayer’s influence throughout the city, his work fits right in.
“Herbert Bayer: an introductionis on view at the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies through December 3.