Institute focuses on Bayer artwork, opens retrospective show


Austrian artist and Aspen aesthetic icon Herbert Bayer now has a permanent home on the walls of the Aspen Institute.

The Institute’s board recently decided to exclusively collect the Bauhaus artist’s work, not accepting gifts or loans of other artwork, and is celebrating the new focus with a diverse, career-spanning Bayer exhibition.

“The Legacy of Herbert Bayer” opened on Dec. 30 in the Resnick Gallery downstairs in the Doerr-Hosier Center. The retrospective is a permanent installation, exclusively showing Bayer’s work in perpetuity, but it will evolve with new loans and gifts.

“The Institute is changing its whole arts program and focusing on collecting, preserving and studying Bayer’s work,” said Lissa Ballinger, the Institute’s art registrar. “This is a recognition of Bayer’s legacy in the Institute, in Aspen and in Bauhaus. That’s a big institutional decision.”

Bayer, born in 1900 in rural Austria, was a student and master at the Bauhaus from 1921 to 1928, and epitomized the modernist art school along with Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Ballinger suggested his work is less known internationally than those contemporaries because Bayer primarily produced art for his two patrons, Robert O. Anderson and Aspen city father Walter Paepcke.

Paepcke hired Bayer to work on advertising and design for his Container Corporation of America, where he eventually oversaw all of the company’s aesthetics. He brought Bayer to Aspen in 1946 and the artist lived here until 1975. He designed the Institute campus itself and its original buildings.

The show follows two previous exhibitions on Bayer at the Resnick Gallery, which focused on specific periods in his career. The new one instead represents a broad Bayer survey. It includes items like his “world geo-graphic atlas,” paintings, sculptures, tapestries, graphics, a tea set, and a set of his photographic collages. It highlights his innovative contributions to disciplines ranging from typography and graphic design, and across the spectrum of visual arts.

The photo display includes 12 of his “fotoplastiken” and “fotomontagen” prints, including Bayer’s surrealistic self-portrait, showing him deconstructing his own arm, and his “Lonely Metropolitan,” a collage with eyes sitting in the palm of a pair of hands against a tenement backdrop.

Of particular local interest, it includes an Aspen tourism poster he made in 1948 and a model of his design for Anderson Park. A model of a memorial sculpture for Paepcke also is on display — featuring intersecting lines emerging from a wood base. The sculpture itself was never realized, but the Institute is hopeful to have it built on campus someday using Bayer’s plans, according to Ballinger.

The exhibition includes early watercolors, surreal experiments, atmospheric paintings from his “Convolutions” series, and his “Chromatics” series featuring geometric forms, along with Bayer anomalies like a deconstructed Greek profile, an Arabic-themed abstract painting and a 1940 war poster for the Works Progress Administration reading “OUR ALLIES NEED EGGS: YOUR FARM CAN HELP.”

The show includes the recent gifts “Belle Nuit Géometrique,” from Lynda and Stewart Resnick, and “Geometry of an Illusionist,” from Jan and Ronald Greenberg. The Institute expects more gifts and loans from Bayer collectors as word spreads about the ongoing show.

“I’ve gotten phone calls from more people saying, ‘Hey I have this piece and didn’t know it was so important,’” said Ballinger.

A slate of Bayer programming is in the works for this summer to compliment the exhibition, said Bayer, including tours of the campus he designed and the buildings he created.

For Aspenites who might have a cursory awareness of Bayer, Ballinger said the new show and the Institute’s ongoing focus on the artist will allow locals to learn about the myriad ways the artist and Paepcke shaped Aspen as a cultural center.

The Bauhaus ideals of accessibility and efficiency — along with its bold primary colors — are evident across the styles and decades of artwork on display, running from the 1920s to the 1980s.

“The Legacy of Herbert Bayer” is free and open to the public. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but closed during conferences. A collection of Bayer’s posters also is currently on view in the Paepcke Gallery in the Walter Paepcke Memorial Building.