I’ve not written about a photographer for a while, so I chose Herbert Bayer, as he has been on my radar to research for a while. He had an incredibly interesting life, achieved so much and left an amazing legacy. He was an Austrian and American photographer but was also an accomplished graphic designer and architect who lived from April 5, 1900 until September 30, 1985. Until his death in 1985, he was a key figure in the creation of the Atlantic Richfield Company’s corporate art collection. He is not the typical photographer I follow, but his achievements and truly outstanding.
In Linz, Herbert worked as an apprentice to the artist Georg Schmidthammer. He became intrigued by Walter Gropius Bauhaus after leaving the workshop to study at the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony. Walter Gropius appointed Herbert as the director of printing and advertising. Herbert had studied at the Bauhaus for four years under masters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and László Moholy-Nagy.
Herbert had devised a clear visual font that used all-lowercase, sans serif typefaces for most of the Bauhaus publications. Several typographers at the time, like Kurt Schwitters and Jan Tschichold, experimented with the design of a streamlined, phonetic-based alphabet. Between 1925 and 1930, Herbert created a geometric sans-serif Proposal for a Universal Typeface, which only existed as a design and was never cast into physical type. These designs are now available as Bayer Universal in digital format.
At the first significant Bauhaus exhibit in Weimar in 1923, Herbert met photographer Irene Bayer-Hecht. They married in 1925, divorced in 1944, and had a daughter, Julia Alexandra in 1928.
Herbert left the Bauhaus in 1928 to become the art director of Vogue’s Berlin bureau. He stayed in Germany for longer than the majority of his colleagues. He developed a booklet for the Deutschland Ausstellung, a tourist show in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games, in which he praised life in the Third Reich and Hitler’s rule. However, Herbert’s work was included in the Nazi propaganda exhibition ‘Degenerate Art’ in 1937, prompting him to flee Germany. He travelled extensively through Italy after fleeing Germany.
Joella Synara Haweis, the daughter of poet and Dada artist Mina Loy, married Herbet in 1944. In the same year, he also became a citizen of the United States.
Herbert moved with his family to Aspen, Colorado in 1946. He was hired by industrialist and visionary Walter Paepcke, who promoted skiing as a popular activity. Herbert’s architectural work in Aspen included co-designing the Aspen Institute and rebuilding the Wheeler Opera House, but his commercial posters helped to brand skiing as witty, exciting and glamorous.
He created his ‘fonetik alfabet’, or phonetic alphabet in English in 1959. It had no capital letters and was sans-serif.
Herbert later met an eccentric oilman and visionary ecologist Robert Anderson while living in Aspen. When Anderson arrived in Aspen and spotted Herbets ultra-modern, Bauhaus-inspired home, he strolled up to the front door and introduced himself. It was the start of a long friendship between the two men, and it was the catalyst for Anderson’s insatiable desire to collect contemporary art.
With Anderson’s eventual formation of the Atlantic Richfield Company, and as his personal art collection quickly outgrew his New Mexico ranch and other homes, ARCO soon became the world’s largest corporate art collection, under the critical eye and sharp direction of Herbert.
Herbert was in charge of overseeing all acquisitions for ARCO Plaza, the newly completed twin 51-story office towers in Los Angeles which served as the new business’s corporate headquarters. He was also in charge of developing the ARCO logo and all corporate branding for the company. Anderson also commissioned Herbet to construct a huge sculpture fountain to be put between the dark green granite towers prior to the completion of ARCO Plaza. Anderson loved the name ‘Stairway to Nowhere’, yet he didn’t think the Shareholders would get the joke, so he proposed it be renamed Double Ascension, and it still remains between the twin skyscrapers today.
ARCO’s art collection increased to approximately 30,000 items countrywide during Herbet’s leadership, which was handled by the Atlantic Richfield Company Art Collection staff. ARCO’s collection was eclectic, encompassing a wide range of media and styles, including contemporary and earlier paintings, sculpture, works on paper. It also included signed photographs, as well as tribal and ethnic art from many cultures, as well as historic prints and artefacts, all of which were displayed throughout ARCO’s 60,000 square foot facility.
Sadly Lord Brown, the then-chairman of BP, personally ordered the liquidation of ARCO’s art collection three years after the firm was acquired by BP in 2000. Christie’s and LA Modern Auctions both sold it off.
After his death, Herbert made arrangements for a collection of his paintings to be donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which had been stored in ARCO’s conference centre in Santa Barbara. The pieces had previously been loaned to the Denver Art Museum. In 1979, he was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The MIT List Visual Arts Center is one of the many public and private collections where Herbet’s art can be viewed today. Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, an environmental artwork in Kent, Washington, was developed by Herbert.
Lynda and Stewart Resnick, philanthropists and entrepreneurs, contributed $10 million to the nonprofit Aspen Institute in 2019 to establish a Bayer Center on the Institute’s Aspen Meadows site, which Herbet built. The Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies will have exhibitions, instructional events, and the goal is to give instruments for the preservation and study of Herbert’s work in general.
This article was written by © Christopher G – Narrating Images