Max Bill was an extremely influential Swiss artist, sculptor, graphic and industrial designer who influenced the twentieth century’s concept of modern design. Bill believed that is was, “possible to develop an art largely on the basis of mathematical thinking.”
Early Life and Education
Max Bill was born in Winterthur, Switzerland in 1908. He was given his first set of paints by his uncle, artist Ernst Geiger. Bill was a student at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, the Arts and Crafts School. At age sixteen, he served as an apprentice to a silversmith.
At age seventeen, he enrolled at the Bauhaus, in Dessau, Germany, and studied under such teachers as Paul Klee, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer and Josef Albers. Bill’s earliest recognition was in 1925, when his work was shown at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, alongside those of artists like Le Corbusier and Melnikow.
Career and Family
Bill moved to Zurich in 1929. He worked on architectural designs in Zurich, and designed his own house and studio in 1932, ushering in the model of the modern buildings of the era. In 1932, when he was 25, Bill’s work was again exhibited in Paris, this time alongside that of Piet Mondrian, Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. The writings, teaching and work of Bill was based on the theory of Concrete Art, which is geometrical, often cerebral, containing basic planes, forms and colors. In 1937, a group of Swiss artists formed the Allianz, which advocated Bill’s Concrete Art theories.
In 1944 Bill taught at the School of Arts in Zurich. He was a founder, in 1953, of the Ulm School of Design in Ulm, Germany, which was originally intended to teach in the Bauhaus tradition, but evolved to combine art and science. Besides the buildings Bill created, he is best known for his many public sculptures and his Junghans clock designs.
Bill was a member of the Swiss National Council from 1967-1971. He was a staunch anti-fascist, protested against the Vietnam War and was a strong proponent of environmental issues. Bill was married to cellist Binia Mathilde Spoerri in 1931, until her death in 1988. The couple had one son. He married art historian Angela Thomas in 1991. Bill died in 1994, at age 85.
Bill’s works can be found at the Kunstmuseum Basel, MoMA, the Smithsonian and other museums and venues throughout the world.