At the 1950 Aspen Design Conference Herbert Bayer said “the artist needs business, and business needs useful art.” This sentiment is perfectly illustrated in the friendship between Bayer and Walter Paepcke. Together they helped to integrate art and industry into a new practice of commercial art during the twentieth century. Their ability to blend commerce and art is clearly evident in the World Geo-graphic Atlas. This work, commissioned by the Container Corporation of America as a gift to its clients in 1953 revolutionized the design of atlases and contributed to the development of trends in information design that we still see today.
The atlas not only exemplifies the partnership between art and business, but also the Bauhaus concept of the total work of art. Bridging fields of painting, typography and information design, Bayer was able to communicate complex geographic, economic and social relationships through a concise, systematic visual language. Today’s specialized field of data visualization owes much to Bayer’s trailblazing.
The atlas also illustrates Bayer’s motivation to inspire through information. Similar to the concerns addressed in his Mountains and Convolutions paintings, Bayer used the atlas to help visualize the fragility of our planet and move people to action. It is hard to deny the influence Aspen must have had on Bayer’s work.
I can’t help but imagine Bayer traveling the world researching maps and collecting data then traveling back to Aspen to conceive and execute a monumental vision, one that had lasting impact on countless individuals, the field of design and quite literally, the ground beneath our feet.
Paepcke and Bayer’s relationship has so many lasting outcomes, but perhaps the most important impact is the legacy of using design, not just as an opportunity to integrate art and commerce, but as a platform for social change and the improvement of the human condition. As we celebrate the centennial of the Bauhaus in Aspen it is worth taking stock of the ways that this little place and its people have and continue to work for meaningful change here and everywhere.
Can’t find a copy. Here is a great video tour.
Here in the Roaring Fork Valley we’ve been celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Bauhaus. I’ve been fortunate enough to sit on the planning committee and help with some of the design through my work with Kissane Viola Design. If you’re interested in the bauhaus and it’s Aspen connections definitely check out the Bauhaus 100: Aspen website and put some events on your calendar.