Asger Jorn / Max Bill
Asger Jorn / Max Bill
Asger Jorn / Max Bill
Asger Jorn / Max Bill
Asger Jorn / Max Bill

Asger Jorn / Max Bill

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Max Bill was a Swiss architect, artist, painter, typeface designer, industrial designer and graphic designer. He had a strict dicta about what was good design, which for him was synonymous with timeless design, especially seen in his own work. Bill was considered the most important influence on Swiss graphic design because of his critical and theoretical writing and distinctive work. 

Asger Jorn was a Danish painter, sculptor, ceramic artist, and author. He was a founding member of the avant-garde movement CoBrA and the Situationist International. He also contributed to Guy Debord’s Situationist International with works which attempted to change people’s behaviors towards art, writing, and the spaces they lived in. 

After graduating from his silversmith apprenticeship in 1927, Max Bill moved from Zurich to Dessau Germany to the Bauhaus school of design. He was exposed to the greatest minds of swiss design, Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, and the founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius. At the Bauhaus, Bill became obsessed with its mathematical and structured teachings. During this time at the Bauhaus Bill formulated his style and motives off of minds like Mondrian and the swiss architect Hannes Meyer who was the successor or Gropius in 1928.

Meyer had a large role in the molding of Max Bill. Meyer based his teachings off of a utopian society that was driven by innovations in science and technological advancements. This had a large effect on Bill and later on, his art and design was based on this theory. Sadly the inundation of this theory was also what led Bill to leave the Bauhaus before graduating. In 1929 Bill noticed that the style of teaching at the Bauhaus was changing to incorporate traditional painting instead of furthering technology and scientific studies.

Ulm School of Design
This led to Bill founding the Ulm School of Design in 1953 along with Inge Aicher-Scholl and Otl Aicher. That year, Bill decided to place a promotional article to attract prospective students and teachers in the British Architects’ Yearbook. This is where Asger Jorn first learned about Bill’s plans for the new school modeled after the Bauhaus. 

According to the book Ulm Design the Morality of Objects, the Ulm school was an opportunity to create a curriculum that was lost at the Bauhaus. The school had three departments, typography, filmmaking, and television. Bill made it a point when creating this curriculum that there were not to be any traditional painting or sculpture, only new innovations. “They did not want to enrich art with more works but to show the culture of today as a whole of life as its theme.” said Lindinger. 

Excited by the possibility of participating in a new democratic pedagogical experiment and in pursuing his interest in fusing art and architecture, Jorn wrote to Bill, inquiring about the role of art at Ulm and expressing his desire to secure a teaching position. Although Jorn wrote enthusiastically to Bill, a collaboration never came to fruition, what remained is a series of hilarious letters as shown below:

“Chesieres, February 12, 1954.
Honorable Mr. Max Bill,
[...] I am very pleased that you can see that I am “presumptuous, rude and arrogant,” But I can tell you that I will be completely ruthless if I fight for a conception in art that I find of the highest truth, topicality and historical significance.
I don’t think that it makes sense to admit “all tendencies in art” in the new “Bauhaus.” (But it makes sense that the artists and professors teaching in applied arts are respected by the other scientific disciplines. It has always been shown that in an epoch only one tendency can develop. Today it is neither Dadaism nor Surrealism, Abstractivism, Concretism or Realism, but something still unknown. This development cannot be changed. But one can support it or counteract it and dissolve it into nothing. Where does the new “Bauhaus” stand in this development: for or against? It seems to me that it is our artistic duty to realize historical creative possibilities to the absolute limit.
The possibilities of the interwar period were, first of all, of an analytic character: today synthesis is our highest performance possibility. But it must be the synthesis of extreme artistic possibilities in all directions to have any meaning. Against this highest synthesis work all those who want to climb over the fence where it is lowest. That is what you are trying to do when you build the new “Bauhaus” sectorially. Your synthesis can at most become of secondary importance, probably it will be only—negative. Just like Dadaism and Surrealism, Kandinsky’s so-called “Concretism” died with him and became historical.
I want to give everything so that you can understand what a great task you have taken on and what opportunities you have. If there is only one possibility to solve it, and if you let it rot, you will have to carry a lot on your conscience, because this possibility will not come back for our generation: to be allowed to continue working on a tradition that has already been created.
If you continue with your exclusive arrogance, everything will be lost, and the artists who have the same creative inspiration as the old “Bauhaus” can start all over again. You have not succeeded in winning the sympathy of the creative and living artists in Germany for your project. Apparently you are not looking for them, either. But without this sympathy you won’t catch the artists of international art life. What will then become the new “Bauhaus”?—what you can already see in Germany: “Just a school for architecture and industrial design,” as they have already been built everywhere. To be honest, Mr. Max Bill, there is probably a school like this in Zurich where you could become director and leave the new “Bauhaus” free for other purposes if you don’t have greater ambitions. [...]
I feel it is my duty to discuss with you until it is quite clear whether you want to accept this possibility or whether you want to take full responsibility for another development. I am neither a Dadaist, nor a Surrealist, nor a Constructivist, nor anything else. I am only an artist. But if I don’t see Dadaism as art but only as aesthetics, then it is, in my opinion, the most highly developed experimental method of art and, as such, of constant validity, as are constructive methods. The question is how to create a dynamic synthesis of the most effective artistic methods, and that means, first of all, to free oneself from sectarianism.
Yours sincerely
Asger Jorn.”
“Zurich, February 15, 1954
To a himself-worshiping-himself-artist called Mr. Jorn.
I sent the copy of your letter of 12-2-54 to my friends in Ulm. They will be especially happy about it now, during the carnival season—because erring is human and fools are a necessary form of human being.
But you don’t have to take the trouble anymore to write again, because your opinion doesn’t agree with mine. You won’t be able to change that with your roughest hocus-pocus.
Max Bill”

Link to full letter

 Bill was very strict in his teachings and didn’t deviate on his beliefs that design should be mathematical and structured towards technological innovations. In 1956 Bill resigned from The Ulm School because of his beliefs and the change in teaching style of the school. The Ulm School of Design later closed after a curriculum dispute between Inge and Otl Aicher who were married at this time.

Function and Gestalt (1958)

Continuity & Change (1953)

15 Variations On One Theme - 1935-38
Bill’s project, 15 Variations On One Theme, places an equilateral triangle within an equilateral octagon that develops outwards in a spiral by further opening up of the angels, though the side length remains the same. This derives, as Bill stated, from the insight “…that many art lovers are not clear about how works of art come into being and about their internal and external structure”

“I think that art can be made, to a large extent, by mathematical thinking. I consider mathematics to be a science that uses only numbers and symbols, while art is a study or theory of beauty. I think it’s the psychological response to beauty that deals with an aesthetic: (art is an antithesis of mathematics).”

Endless Staircase (Monument to Ernst Bloch) - 1991
According to the artist, Max Bill's "Endless Staircase (Monument to Ernst Bloch)", a sculpture made of North American granite, refers to the philosophical "principle of hope" of his friend Ernst Bloch, who was born in Ludwigshafen. Over a cylindrical base, 19 steps spiral upwards to a height of almost ten meters. The steps are absolutely the same - and yet they seem to be of different types due to the arrangement, which creates a variety of light and shadow effects.

The artist Max Bill saw the realization of his principle of combining mathematical-geometric constructions with the greatest possible sensual impression. Max Bill belonged to the artist group “Zürcher Konkreten”; he is one of the most important concrete artists, who with his paintings and sculptures implemented the idea that a work of art is a composition of color and shape that should be built according to the rules of mathematics. 

International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus 
Asger Jorn responded to Bill's letter denying him involvement in the Ulm School by proposing the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB), a movement of ‘free artists’ devoted to the experimental theory and practice that would be excluded from the school in Ulm. 

The IMIB involved some of Europe’s most celebrated modern artists, and was key to the development of radical art in Europe. The IMIB was officially founded in 1955, and dissolved late in 1957, when it merged with the Lettrist International to form the Situationist International. The Movement was founded as a laboratory to explore the role of art in a modern, industrial society – its ideals were freedom and experimentation and, though it lasted only a few short years, its influence was profound. The group was international but based its operations in Alba in Northern Italy, when Jorn was invited there by the Nuclearists Baj and Dangelo. Asger Jorn produced his major monumental work, the Aarhus relief, in Alba (and transported it by train from Italy to Denmark). 

Notes on the Formation of an Imaginist Bauhaus
What was the Bauhaus?
The Bauhaus was an answer to the question: What kind of “education” do artists need in order to take their place in the machine age?

How was the Bauhaus idea implemented?
It was implemented with a “school” in Germany, first at Weimar, then at Dessau. Founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius, it was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933.

What is the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus?
It is the answer to the question where and how to find a justified place for artists in the machine age. This answer demonstrates that the education carried out by the old Bauhaus was mistaken.

How has the idea of an International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus been implemented?
The Movement was founded in Switzerland in 1953 as a tendency aimed at forming a united organization capable of promoting an integral revolutionary cultural approach. In 1954 the experience of the Albissola gathering demonstrated that experimental artists must get hold of industrial means and subject them to their own non-utilitarian ends. In 1955 an imaginist laboratory was founded at Alba. Conclusion of the Albissola experience: complete inflationary devaluation of modern values of decoration (cf. ceramics produced by children). In 1956 the Alba Congress dialectically defined unitary urbanism. In 1957 the Movement is promulgating the watchword of psychogeographical action.

What we want:
We want the same economic and practical means and possibilities that are already at the disposal of scientific research, of whose momentous results everyone is aware. Artistic research is identical to “human science,” which for us means “concerned” science, not purely historical science. This research should be carried out by artists with the assistance of scientists. The first institute ever formed for this purpose is the experimental laboratory for free artistic research founded 29 September 1955 at Alba. This type of laboratory is not an instructional institution; it simply offers new possibilities for artistic experimentation.

The leaders of the old Bauhaus were great masters with exceptional talents, but they were poor teachers. The students’ works were only pious imitations of their masters. The real influence of the latter was indirect, by force of example: Ruskin on Van de Velde, Van de Velde on Gropius.

This is not at all a criticism, it is simply a recognition of reality, from which the following conclusions may be drawn: The direct transfer of artistic gifts is impossible; artistic adaptation takes place through a series of contradictory phases: Shock — Wonder — Imitation — Rejection — Experimentation — Possession. None of these phases can be avoided, though they need not all be gone through by any one individual. Our practical conclusion is the following: We are abandoning all efforts at pedagogical action and moving toward experimental activity.

Writings on Art and Architecture

Excerpts from Asger Jorn's book "Image and Form"
Utility and function will always be the starting point for any formal criticism; it is simply a question of transforming Functionalism's program.

. . . Functionalists ignore the psychological function of surroundings . . . The appearances of the buildings and of the objects that we use and that form our environment have a function that is separate from their practical use.

. . . because of their concepts of standardization, Functionalist Rationalists believed that it was possible to attain ideal, definitive forms of the different objects useful to people. Developments to date have shown that this static conception was mistaken. We must arrive at a dynamic conception of forms, we must face the fact that all human forms are in a constant state of transformation; where the Rationalists went wrong was in not understanding that the only way of avoiding the anarchy of change is to become aware of the laws governing transformation and to put them to use.

. . . It is important to understand that this conservatism of forms is thoroughly illogical because it is not the result of not knowing what an object's definitive form is, but rather of the fact that people are upset when they do not find some element of deja vu in an unfamiliar phenomenon.

. . The radicalism of forms is a result of the fact that people are saddened when they do not find some unexpected element in the known. One might find this radicalism illogical, as do the advocates of standardization, but we must not lose sight of the fact that discovery is only made possible by this need of man's.

Architecture is always the ultimate achievement of intellectual and artistic evolution, the materialization of an economic stage. Architecture is the final point in the achievement of any artistic endeavor because the creation of architecture implies the construction of an environment and the establishment of a way of life.