Herbert Bayer (1900-1985)

Bauhaus designer and commercial artist

Updated: November 21, 2012

Herbert Bayer, born in Linz, Austria, in 1900, was one of many Bauhaus designers (others include Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, or Josef Albers) who left a significant mark on American commercial aesthetics. Few people exemplify the Bauhaus ties between art and commerce as well as Bayer, who headed the Bauhaus’s workshop for advertising art (Werbedruck) from 1925 to 1928 in Dessau. The aesthetics of function championed by the school and the possibilities of standardized serial production, Bayer believed, were applicable to graphic design and typography in advertising as well. In his Weimar lesson plans on advertising art, he emphasized the importance of new technologies, such as photomontage, as well as the psychological importance of colors in ad work. The same attention to consumer psychology and the commercial ramifications of his artwork would later infuse his work in the United States, as exemplified by a 1941 workshop sponsored by the American Advertising Guild and covered in the trade magazine A-D.

Even before he immigrated to the United States in 1938, Bayer had built ties to corporate America through his work as art director of the Berlin office of the Dorland advertising agency. As the creative head of Studio Dorland throughout the 1930s, Bayer combined an interest in modern art with its everyday commercial application in campaigns for Telefunken records, Boehringer cold medication, and Venus underwear. While in Berlin, he was also a participant in Kurt Schwitter’s Ring neuer Werbegestalter, a group interested in avant-garde advertising art. After immigrating, he worked with Dorland’s New York office and as an art director for J.W. Thompson and John Wanamaker Department stores.

Bayer’s most prominent role in American advertising lies perhaps in his constant straddling of the line between the commercial and the artistic. His most famous commercial work came through his affiliation with the Container Corporation of America (CCA), a prominent producer of boxes and shipping supplies. His widely acclaimed “Great Ideas of Western Man” campaign for the company ran from 1950 into the 1970s and was credited with elevating the “style and tone of American advertising.” [1] CCA chairman Walter Paepcke, also a patron to the so-called New Bauhaus in Chicago, had brought in Bayer and another Bauhaus émigré, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, to enhance the company’s already unusually modernist design department. Bayer’s work for the CCA included efforts to completely redesign the company’s corporate identity from the trademark and advertising to the layout and design of the office and production facilities. Paepcke was also instrumental in organizing a 1945 Art Institute of Chicago exhibition on “Modern Art in Advertising,” which featured Bayer prominently along other luminaries of interwar European poster design such as A.M. Cassandre and Jean Carlu. Bayer and the CCA envisioned a more equally balanced relationship between art and commerce, which they saw at the time as more common among European than American designers and businessmen.

By the 1960s, Bayer explicitly called for a new type of artist without reservations vis-à-vis the world of material production and commercial advertising. In his writings, Bayer traced this type of artist back to interwar French poster design and the modernism of the Bauhaus and he now saw them taking hold in the design departments of American corporations and ad agencies. Much like the market researchers and the motivational psychologists that populated Madison Avenue at the time, he suggested, artists could enter fruitful cooperation with business that would give companies a competitive edge, but ultimately uplift the moral and aesthetic sensibilities of consumers.  

By the 1960s, Bayer explicitly called for a new type of artist without reservations vis-à-vis the world of material production and commercial advertising. In his writings, Bayer traced this type of artist back to interwar French poster design and the modernism of the Bauhaus and he now saw them taking hold in the design departments of American corporations and ad agencies. Much like the market researchers and the motivational psychologists that populated Madison Avenue at the time, he suggested, artists could enter fruitful cooperation with business that would give companies a competitive edge, but ultimately uplift the moral and aesthetic sensibilities of consumers.  



[1] (New York Times, October 1, 1985).

Selected Publications

Bayer, Herbert. "Container Corporation of America: Design as an Expression of Industry." Gebrauchsgraphik / International Advertising Art 23, 9 (1952).

Selected Bibliography

Allen, James. The Romance of Commerce and Culture Capitalism, Modernism, and the Chicago-Aspen Crusade for Cultural Reform. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2002.

Bauhaus Archiv (ed.). Herbert Bayer: Das künstlerische Werk, 1918-1938. Berlin: 1982.

Chanzit, Gwen Finkel and Daniel Libeskind. From Bauhaus to Aspen: Herbert Bayer and Modernist Design in America. Boulder: Johnson Books, 2005.

Archival Collections

Herbert Bayer Papers, Bauhaus Archiv, Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin, Germany.

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Herbert Bayer," Transatlantic Perspectives, 2017, Transatlantic Perspectives. 15 Dec 2017 <http://transatlanticperspectives.org/entry.php?rec=19>

APA Style

"Herbert Bayer." (2017) In Transatlantic Perspectives, Retrieved December 15, 2017, from Transatlantic Perspectives: http://transatlanticperspectives.org/entry.php?rec=19