Books | Max Bill’s View on Good Design

Entrance to the Basel exhibition, with Max Bill’s sculpture rythm in space

Max Bill’s View of Things
Die gute Form: An Exhibition 1949
Edited by Lars Müller in collaboration with
the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Lars Müller Publishers 2014
Text in German + English
160pp hardback


Sensing the Future:
Moholy Nagy, Media
and the Arts
By Oliver A I Botar
Lars Müller Publishers 2014
Text in English or German
192pp hardback

In regard to books, at The Blog, we limit ourselves, principally, to assessing those about the visual world of the 20th and 21st century. Like good sculpture, which must be aesthetically pleasing from every conceivable angle and from every point of view, a good book should be a thing of beauty.

Max Bill (1908 > 1994), we suspect, would see things from our point of view. Max Bill’s View of Things, Die gute Form: An Exhibition 1949, is a book about the (Good Design) exhibition, that he organised and assembled for the 1949 Swiss Mustermesse, in Basel. Minus the simple and flexible structure Bill designed to carry the panels – that could be easily adapted to fit all of the twelve venues to which the exhibition travelled up to June 1950 – the book is, fundamentally, the scaled-down content of the exhibition itself, of which several photographs are included, put together in an alternative form. Albeit with an English language translation running in a strip across the bottom, each double-page spread is a complete panel from the show. In addition, and importantly, the book also contains an introductory essay by British architectural and design theoretician, Deyan Sudjic, who is director of the Design Museum, London. Sudjic expertly places Bill, who studied at the Bauhaus and established the the Ulm School of design, within a historical context, and contrasts the modernist polymath’s ideas against those of his designer and architect contemporaries, particularly Ettore Sotsass. A more factual essay by Max Bill’s son Jakob, in also included, along with texts by Swiss architect and author Claude Lichtenstein, and Renate Menzi, curator of the design collection at Museum für Gestaltung Zürich. An exhibition guide by Bill, himself, to the show when it was installed at Zürich Kunstgewerbe Museum in 1950, provides insight into the philosophy on which he based his concept and the reasoning behind the selection process he went through in choosing the items he featured.

Two examples of panels and  a photograph of the the Die gute Form exhibition, reproduced as double-page spreads in the book. The top image shows forms in nature, science, art and technology, the second a selection of chairs

In line with the manifesto that appears in Max Bill’s View of Things, Die gute Form: An Exhibition 1949, this book fulfils its function, respects its materials, is suited to the method of production, and combines these in imaginative expression, however, the almost completely monotone content and minimal packaging lacks a little of the human warmth that post-modernism has persuaded us all not to feel guilty about. Similar design criticisms apply to Canadian professor Oliver Botars Sensing the Future: Moholy Nagy, Media and the Arts, which shares the same format, materials, and strictly gridded layout, although here the cover has been given a colour treatment and many of the images inside are in colour, which makes it easier on the eye. And whereas the content of the first book is concerned with contemporary design in 1949, this second Lars Müller in-depth publication asks whether Lazlo Moholy-Nagy – incidentally, one of Bill’s masters at the Bauhaus – possessed such vision that, through his experiments with every kind of media available to him in the 1920s, predicted the advent of digital culture and the rapidly changing relationship between people and technology.

© All images supplied by Lars Miller Publishers

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