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Herbert Bayer


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Painter, photographer, architect, designer, and sculptor. His unspecialized approach to art and design reflected his Bauhaus training emphasizing basic principles of visual communication. He emerged as a veritable one-man band of modernism, able to address problems of form in practically any medium. Born in Haag, in the mountains of Austria, he worked as an apprentice architect and graphic designer in Linz and Darmstadt before arriving at the Bauhaus in 1921. For two years there he studied painting with Kandinsky, as well as typography. From 1925 to 1928 he headed the typography and graphic design studio at the school. For the next ten years he worked on commercial design and personal artistic projects in Berlin. In 1938 he moved to New York and six years later became an American citizen. For twenty years, beginning in 1945, he masterminded Container Corporation of America's innovative design program, including its Great Ideas of Western Man series, which commissioned works from well-known artists. In 1946, Bayer moved to Aspen, Colorado, which he helped to develop as a center for recreation and culture. He served as consultant and architect to the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies and founded the International Design Conference held there. He died near Santa Barbara, California, in Montecito, where he had lived in his last years. Ranging from commercial typography to murals, from exhibition design to environmental art, and from buildings to drawings, Bayer's extremely varied output defies simple generalizations. His work as a typographer, graphic designer, and photographer strongly influenced the development of modern advertising. Nevertheless, the fine arts were always at the heart of his enterprise, and he never ceased to think of himself as a painter. Geometric abstractions predominated in his paintings of the 1920s and 1930s, while later he investigated a variety of more personal modes, including coloristic studies and works based on landscape. His photographs, particularly those from his years in Europe, stand among his most vivid contributions to the fine arts. Many reflect the period's avant-garde search for identifiably modern angles of vision in straight photography, while his photomontages surrealistically manipulate reality, often with whimsical irony.

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