Cooper Hewitt says...

The Swiss artist and designer Max Bill (1908–1994) was known for his mastery in many areas, working as a painter, sculptor, graphic designer, typographer, industrial designer, and architect. Bill founded Concrete Art, a movement that emphasized the harmony of lines and colors and the need for art to be free of any symbolic association with nature. He integrated the study of geometry and mathematics into his art practice, often basing his works on grid systems or geometric conundrums such as the Möbius strip.

Bill was born in Winterthur, Switzerland in 1908. From 1924–27, he studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zürich, and then from 1927–29, attended the Bauhaus school in Dessau, where he studied with Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Josef Albers, and László Moholy-Nagy. He was very influenced by the Bauhaus and remained faithful to the school’s tenets throughout his life. In 1930, Bill relocated to Zürich and set up his own studio. While designing advertisements, he also pursued sculpture, painting, and architecture. His breakthrough came in 1936 when he designed the Pavilion at the Triennale in Milan. That same year he also formulated his central thoughts on Concrete Art in his short text, “konkrische gestaltung,” which appeared in the catalogue for the exhibition, Zeitprobleme in der Schweizer Malerei und Plastik (Problems of our Time in Swiss Painting and Sculpture) at the Kunsthaus Zürich. He asserted the need for art to emerge on its own, without any reference to natural phenomena. In 1937, he helped form Allianz, a group of Swiss artists who were inspired by the Concrete Art movement but were more interested in color and less influenced by Constructivism. In 1944, at the Kunsthalle Basel, he organized the first international exhibition of Concrete Art (Konkrete Kunst) and published the magazine Abstrackt-Konkret.

After 1944, Bill became increasingly active in industrial design, creating products ranging from chairs to wall sprockets, and approaching their design with clarity, simplicity, and mathematical logic. He co-founded the Ulm School of Arts and Crafts in 1951 and served as the rector of the school until 1955. In addition to directing the Architecture and Product Design departments, he planned the school’s curriculum and designed its buildings. He later served as a Professor of Environmental Design at the State Institute of Fine Arts, Hamburg (1967–74) and joined the Swiss Parliament (1967–71). In 1987, he received the Frank J. Malina Leonardo Award for lifetime achievement, an award presented by Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology to artists who successfully achieve a synthesis of contemporary art, science, and technology. He also received the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for sculpture in 1993. By the time of his death in 1994, Bill had succeeded in establishing himself as one of the most influential figures within European Modernism, with a career as an artist and designer that spanned many fields. Today his works are held in the collections of a number of important institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.