The Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies in Aspen, Colorado, preserves and celebrates the legacy of the Bauhaus-affiliated artist with the inaugural exhibition Herbert Bayer: An Introduction.
ASPEN, CO—Last summer, the Aspen Institute opened the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies—a two-story exhibition space dedicated to preserving the legacy and forwarding research of its namesake. For its inaugural show, the center launched the career retrospective Herbert Bayer: An Introduction, which runs through April 2023.
Herbert Bayer was an Austrian-born, Bauhaus-affiliated artist whose early creative output included painting, graphic design, collage, and typography. In 1938, a year before the Second World War enveloped Europe in bloodshed, he immigrated to the United States in order to escape the increasingly oppressive restrictions of the Nazi regime.
After spending eight years in New York City, he re-located to the town of Aspen in 1946 where he would spend the next thirty years of his life. While living in the Rocky Mountains, Bayer worked as the art director for the Aspen Skiing Company and an art consultant for the Container Corporation of America. As part of his role for these positions, he created marketing materials in order to promote outdoor activities and tourism. He also involved himself in architectural projects and city planning, renovating both the Wheeler Opera House and Hotel Jerome, as well as designing an octagonal sundeck at the peak of Aspen Mountain.
In 1950, Bayer’s friend and patron Walter Paepcke founded the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. The entrepreneur commissioned the artist to design the campus, its buildings, various works of art that would be stationed upon the grounds, and the World Geo-Graphic Atlas: A Composite of Man’s Environment. Over the course of the next decade, he would work on these projects, all the while maintaining a regular art practice—which now incorporated textiles, large outdoor sculptures, and earthworks.
After suffering from multiple heart attacks in 1974, Bayer, on doctor’s orders, moved to Montecito, California, where he would live out the remainder of his life. The artist, who continued creating until the day he died, passed away a decade later at the age of eighty-five.
In order to honor and preserve the memory of the late artist, the Aspen Institute opened the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies during the summer of 2022. The inaugural show, Herbert Bayer: An Introduction, is a career-spanning overview that begins with childhood sketches and extends through his final series of paintings, titled Anthology.
While Bayer’s most famous works—such as his monumental Articulated Wall in Denver and Double Ascension in Los Angeles—embody a particular geometric minimalism, his aesthetic concerns shifted over the course of his extensive career.
His earliest extent sketches, for instance, consist primarily of realistic landscapes and European architecture; but they soon transformed into more expressionistic re-imaginings of similar content after he familiarized himself with the work and ideas of Wassily Kandinsky.
Upon enrolling in Bauhaus in 1921, Bayer’s artistic output took on design-based characteristics with a focus on typography, as well as primary forms and colors. He would spend the better part of the next decade as a student and a teacher at the institution. After resigning from his position in 1928, he moved to Berlin and worked as a graphic designer. During this period, his artwork became decidedly surrealist in appearance and would remain so for the next twenty years.
As both he and his work matured, Bayer’s style once again shifted: his paintings became more abstract, although they continued to gesture toward the natural world. One can discern mountains, trees, rivers, and lakes within these artworks; but the forms are more suggestive than representational.
By the 1960s and 1970s, Bayer’s artwork jettisoned references to the natural world—however oblique they may have been—for a more abstracted, geometric idiom. His Chromatic Progression series attended to the interaction of color and optical illusions created by these relationships, exploring the manner in which slight alterations in shape and color combination, as well as repetition, changed a viewer’s perception. This is, undoubtedly, the most enduringly emblematic period of his artistic career.
It was also during this period that Bayer designed many of his monumental sculptures and earthworks. Anderson Park, his largest piece of land art, was designed and realized on the Aspen Institute’s campus, separating its east and west ends. Other outdoor sculptures created during this time—such as Anaconda, Marble Garden, and Kaleidoscreen—also reside permanently on the grounds.
During the final phase of his life, Bayer worked on his Anthology series while living in California. These paintings act as a collection of fragments accrued from various stages of his artistic life: typography from his Bauhaus days, objects vaguely attributed from the natural world reminiscent of his first years in Aspen, and the hard geometric abstraction of the 1960s and 1970s all coexisting in discrete works of art.
The Resnick Center’s Herbert Bayer: An Introduction and the Aspen Institute’s campus present each of these phases of the artist’s career in one retrospective show. It is a testament to Bayer’s longevity, willingness to experiment with different styles, and dedication to a life immersed in art. The current show runs through April 29, 2023, and will be followed by an exhibition showcasing the artist’s involvement with World Geo-Graphic Atlas: A Composite of Man’s Environment.