Aspen Institute highlights Herbert Bayer’s poster art in new exhibition
If You Go …
What: ‘The Poster Art of Herbert Bayer’
Where: Paepcke Gallery, Aspen Institute
When: Through June 2018
How much: Free
More info: www.aspeninstitute.org
Herbert Bayer was modern Aspen’s original hype man. The Bauhaus artist and local aesthetic icon designed some of the first posters promoting the ski resort, when it was new, in 1946.
One of those original posters is on display — along with many more — in a new exhibition at the Paepcke Gallery on the Aspen Institute campus.
Bayer’s original large-format poster for Aspen at the dawn of the ski resort features an enticing “Ski in Aspen Colorado” text above a photograph of a skier making powder turns inside of an Aspen leaf and surrounded by orange and white stripes.
Bayer also made a poster for the 1968 International Ski Congress in Aspen, with an illustration of two skiers cutting a perfect figure-eight in fresh snow, and another encouraging membership in the National Ski Association showing five skiers doing the same. The collection also boasts a poster for the now-defunct Ski Broadmoor (showing two skiers forming a “B” in the snow).
In all, the Paepcke Gallery show includes 19 posters from the private collection of Denver residents H. Kirk Brown and Jill A. Wiltse.
“We’re honored to have our collection showcased in such a Herbert Bayer-centric building, campus and environment,” Brown said at Monday’s opening.
He and Wiltse run the nonprofit Design Onscreen, which funds documentaries about architecture and design. They’re hopeful a Bayer movie will make it onto the screen someday soon. They believe Bayer — a household name in Aspen, of course, and among Bauhaus devotees, but not necessarily in the popular culture — is due for a global reappraisal.
“We’ve long thought Herbert Bayer has not been duly recognized and he deserves much more recognition than he’s received,” Brown said. “His day has yet to come.”
Bayer, whose work extended from graphic design, fonts, painting, architecture, sculpture, photography and land art, arrived in Aspen in 1946 as Walter Paepcke launched the resort and what would become the Institute. Bayer had previously worked on advertising and design for Paepcke’s Container Corporation of America, where he eventually oversaw all of the company’s aesthetics.
The artist lived here until 1975 and died 10 years later in California. He designed the Institute campus itself and its original buildings and his visual signature remains in virtually every corner of the West End campus.
The works in the new show date from the 1940s to 1981. Other highlights include a World War II propaganda poster for the Rural Electrification Administration, a wartime division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It reads “Allies Need Eggs: Your Farm Can Help,” with a stark image of an egg casting a shadow and a minimalist graphic of a burning city in the background.
Other posters advertise Bayer art exhibitions — including one from the Denver Art Museum in 1973 and one from the inaugural exhibition of the Herbert Bayer Archive in Denver in 1980 – along with group Bauhaus shows abroad.
At the new show’s opening Monday, Aspen Institute curator Lissa Ballinger recalled a quote from Bayer about the state of American graphic design when he arrived in the states.
“When he moved to the United States, he was trying to influence Americans with European design,” she explained. “In 1939, in regards to American commercial graphics of the day, he said, ‘Why is it difficult to be so simple?’”
Along with this pristine poster collection, Brown and Wiltse own several Bayer paintings, maquettes and works on paper and one a wood sculpture (some have been on loan and on view at the Institute’s Resnick Gallery, where “The Legacy of Herbert Bayer” retrospective has been hanging for more than three years). The collectors have taken a particular interest in Bayer’s early graphic design work — his covers for Fortune magazine, his stamps and the German marks he designed for the Weimar regime before fleeing Germany and, of course, these posters.
“He thought, in so many ways, outside the box,” Brown said. “And we thought it was just part of who he was. It was important to have works from that era.”
The poster collection isn’t quite complete. Brown said he and Wiltse have been unable to get their hands on Bayer’s ski posters for Mont Blanc in Quebec.
Much of the work they obtained directly from the Bayer family. Brown recalled meeting Javan and Britt Bayer — the artist’s stepson and stepdaughter-in-law — in Denver in the early 1990s. They went to Germany to have a look at pieces the estate was willing to sell.
“We went to go for just a couple hours, and we spent three weeks going through every piece in the collection,” Brown recalled.
The poster show, which will hang for a year in the Paepcke Gallery, continues the Institute’s investigation and display of lesser-known aspects of Bayer’s artistic career. It follows a show highlighting his maquettes and miniatures that opened last summer, and one collecting his tapestries that opened the summer before. Since 2014, the Institute has focused on collecting, preserving and studying Bayer — not accepting gifts or loans of artwork by other artists. The organization has since filled its Paepcke and Resnick galleries solely with pieces from Bayer’s expansive oeuvre.
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