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Herbert Bayer Dies, Famed Futuristic Artist-Architect

October 01, 1985|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Herbert Bayer, the venerated artist-architect-designer believed to be the last of the Bauhaus ideologists, died Monday morning at his home in the Santa Barbara suburb of Montecito.

He was 85 and had been ill for several months, said a spokesman for Atlantic Richfield Co., one of his prime benefactors.

Bayer was a muralist who designed factories, a painter who sculpted fountains and an author who captured surrealism with the lens of his camera.

Beyond that he was the quintessence of the Bauhaus creed: To "create . . . buildings of the future which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity."

Bayer was the last link in the chain of master Bauhaus teachers, a group founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919 by German architect Walter Gropius. Gropius and his disciples believed that art and machinery could share the same quarters, that form and function were the bellwethers of the future.

Propensity for Graphic Design

It was a philosophy that could have been crafted for Bayer himself because he was an eclectic student whose talents ran in such diverse areas as graphics, furniture design and tapestries.

The man who went on to build factories for the Container Corp. of America, music tents for a humanist center in Colorado and one of the world's largest art collections for Atlantic Richfield was an inexperienced 21-year-old student when he journeyed to Weimar from his native Austria, ostensibly to learn mural painting.

His propensity for graphic design quickly made him the master of his wall-painting workshop, and he began to avail himself of the other arts that Bauhaus masters were melding into a single force.

In 1984, the year "Herbert Bayer: The Complete Work" was published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, he wrote in a preface to that volume:

"The Bauhaus gave me a way of life and work and a design philosophy suitable for dealing with the problems of the contemporary artist. . . . As an institution the Bauhaus was short-lived, but as an idea its presence can still be felt in art teaching methods and in the design of the environment that surrounds us today."

From murals he progressed to teacher of typography and graphic design, leaving Weimar in 1928 to "move away from theory to practice." He opened an art, photography and design studio in Berlin, but five years later he had to close his shop and school when the newly empowered Nazis branded the Bauhaus oeuvre "decadent and Bolshevist." Five years later, in 1938, he fled to the United States, arriving in New York City with $25.

Museum of Modern Art

Bayer began working for the New York Museum of Modern Art, designing three widely heralded exhibitions, including one tracing the Bauhaus movement from 1919 to 1928. Later he worked as a consultant for Dorland International, a New York design company.

After World War II he forged the first of his many links with American capitalism by helping to create the Container Corp. of America's legendary advertising campaign "Great Ideas of Western Man."

Americans, growing weary of the commercial gimmickry of Madison Avenue, found the thoughtful print campaign--a retrospective tableau of Western philosophy--widely appealing. Fragments of these great ideas, accompanied by Bayer graphics, ran in national magazines and established Container Corp. as a concerned industry trying to be recognized as more than just a manufacturer of packages.

Bayer next combined painting and photographic montages in a series of posters and magazines covers, designed ads for products ranging from nose drops to lotions and designed book jackets and company reports.

Through his books and lectures to corporate leaders he emphasized his belief that "we must overcome the notion that the artist is a luxury" and when his affiliation with Container Corp. ended in 1965, he found a new patron in Atlantic Richfield, where he was art and design consultant until his death.

His "Double Ascension," a fountain sculpture he created in 1973, adorns Arco Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. Robert O. Anderson, Arco's chairman, said Monday that Bayer was "a creative force who helped shape 20th-Century art."

The last of the talents he brought to fruition was the one for which he may have been least prepared academically--architecture.

Curator of Aesthetics

In 1946, Walter Paepcke, Container Corp.'s chairman, encouraged Bayer to design the environment at the developing Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies in Colorado.

Although Bayer had no formal training as an architect and most of the buildings he had designed for Container Corp. were limited by the huge expanses of factory space required by a container manufacturer, he quickly adapted to his new role as curator of aesthetics in Aspen. Among his first structures was a restaurant with an inverted roof designed to retain water, which was used for heat.

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