Max Bill
Year, Birthplace 1908, Switzerland
Year, Place of death 1994, Switzerland
Max Bill began by studying at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich (1924-1927). He went to Paris in 1925 to visit the International Exhibition. The pavilions of Le Corbusier, Konstantin Melnikov, Joseph Hoffmann and Frederick Kiesler made a great impression on him. Influenced by a lecture given by Le Corbusier, he decided to study architecture and enrolled at the Bauhaus in Dessau, the school directed by Walter Gropius and, later, by Hannes Meyer. There, until 1929, he was taught by Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee and Josef Albers. On his return to Zurich in 1939 he opened his own architectural studio. He also painted and sculpted and took an interest in advertising and design. In 1932, he met Hans Arp and then Piet Mondrian. The following year he also met Georges Vantongerloo, who was to exert a considerable influence on his work. The same year, he took part in the activities of the Abstraction-Création group in Paris. He travelled widely to visit exhibitions and met Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Anton Pevsner, Marcel Duchamp, František Kupka, Willi Baumeister, Julius Bissier, Henry Van de Velde and others. A declared opponent of fascism, he turned his back on Germany between 1932 and 1948. In 1935, he created Ruban sans fin [Endless Ribbon], one of his most well known sculptures; he was to continue his explore this form for the rest of his life. The same year, he began 15 lithographs, titled Quinze variations sur un même thème [Fifteen Variations on a Theme]. In 1936, 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 in Zurich, Max Bill developed the methods and principles of Theo van Doesburg’s concrete art and defended the use of exact sciences and mathematics in the creation of art. From the beginning of the 1940s, he began a pictorial investigation of the square and other geometric structures (in particular the tilted square). In 1944, at the Kunsthalle Basel, he organised the first international exhibition of concrete art (Konkrete Kunst) and published the magazine Abstrackt-Konkret. He began to work in the area of industrial design. The same year, he was put in charge of the Theory and Form course at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. In 1947, he created his large sculpture Continuité [Continuity], destroyed in 1948 and his first Bildsüule, a painting in the form of a column. In 1949 he organised the exhibition Die Gute Form [The Good Form] in Basle, which toured to various European cities and which would influence the formal principles of design for decades. In 1950 he was asked to design, following the example of the Bauhaus, the programme and architecture of the Hochschule für Gestaltung, in the city of Ulm (Scholl Foundation), in Germany. This project lasted for seven years, during which he acted simultaneously as rector and professor. He asked Josef Albers, his old Bauhaus teacher, to join him. In 1956, he was honoured by a major retrospective exhibition in Ulm, which later toured to Munich, Duisburg, The Hague and Zurich. At the end of this period, he returned to Zurich, where he opened an agency. During these years, he was in demand for courses, lectures and exhibitions. He was honoured with prizes at the São Paulo Biennale in 1951 and the Milan Triennale in 1954. He wrote numerous articles and books on Kupka, Le Corbusier, Kandinsky, Mies Van der Rohe, Arp, Alberto Magnelli, Mondrian, Pevsner, Albers, Duchamp, Vantongerloo, Gropius, etc. He built various houses and buildings, designed numerous exhibitions, created theatre and opera sets, and designed everyday objects such as clocks, tables and chairs. In 1965, he was invited to Hamburg to take up the post of professor of environmental design, at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste [National School of Fine Arts], and was appointed the first European Chair in the field in 1967. Max Bill, who, in 1948, was awarded the Kandinsky Prize by Nina Kandinsky and the critic Charles Estienne was, until the end of his life, a prolific and exceptionally energetic creator. Though he always considered himself first and foremost an architect, he embraced every sphere and exerted a great influence on younger generations, searching for simplicity and harmony in the forms that resulted from mathematical theories. While various post-1950s tendencies opposed functionalism and objectivity, his ascetic and economical art was a precursor to minimalist art. AC