Max Bill: Standing the Test of Time

The orbit of human vision has widened and art has annexed fresh territories that were formerly denied to it. – Max Bill

Max Bill was one of the most accomplished and multitalented artists of the twentieth century. Bill worked as an architect, painter, graphic and industrial artist, sculptor, designer, teacher and politician. He was able to combine fine art, science and design to create art, buildings, furniture, fonts and sculpture.

Bill was born in Switzerland in 1908. After apprenticing with a silversmith, he attended the Bauhaus in 1927, where he was heavily influenced by his teachers, including Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.

He moved to Zurich in 1929, where he began a career as a designer, whose work influenced many of the modern artists who came after him.

Max Bill’s Timeless Designs

A recent issue of Forbes magazine called Max Bill’s Chronoscope watch design,”one of the best.” “The Chronoscope remains incredibly faithful to the original designs Bill produced in the 1960s,” according to Forbes,  “adding all the quality available to a modern manufacturer.”

Bill designed the watch for the Junghans watch company in 1962 and the design has continued to be manufactured each year for the last fifty-six years. The original watches are collectors items and the current pieces are coveted for their timeless design.

Before the Chronoscope, Bill designed one of the world’s most classic kitchen clocks, one of which is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. The clock was designed by Bill, along with some of his students at the Ulm School of Design in Ulm, Germany, which he founded in 1953.

“Functional design considers the visual aspect, that is, the beauty, of an object as a component of its function,” Bill said,  “but not one that overwhelms its other primary functions.”

Max Bill’s Concrete Art

Max Bill was part of the Concrete Art movement, which began in 1930. It was an anti-impressionist movement, which advocated using clarity and mechanical painting techniques with simple elements.

Bill embraced the practice in all of his work. He used clear, clean lines in his designs of everything from buildings to furnishings.

His paintings and prints appear simple, but they are well thought out, and even the colors and materials he used were often more complex than they appear at first glance.

One of the requirements of Concrete Art, listed in the group’s manifesto in 1930, was that:

A work of art must be entirely conceived and shaped by the mind before its execution. It shall not receive anything of nature’s or sensuality’s or sentimentality’s formal data. We want to exclude lyricism, drama, symbolism, and so on.

That philosophy can be seen in Max Bill’s paintings and prints, like Combillation, a screenprint available at VFA, that Bill did on four plastic panels in 1970. His unique use of color, material and design reflect the Concrete Artists’ desire to keep things simple and relatable.

The first line of the Concrete Art manifesto is: Art in universal. Max Bill remained true to the manifesto throughout his long, illustrious career, until his death in 1994.

Max Bill Work at VFA

Please contact us if you would like more information about Combillation, or any of the other fine works available at VFA.

See More Max Bill Work for Sale

Sean Lorentzen. Forbes. Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope Is Still One Of The Best Minimalist Watches. July 20,2018.
Emma Calder. Junghans timepiece snaps up Red Dot Award just weeks after release.WatchPro. May 10, 2018.
SwissInfo.Two Winterthur museums honour Switzerland’s “universal artist”. January 30,2008.

Max Bill: Simple Design, Complex Ideas

Max Bill’s clarity of design had a profound influence on the architecture, painting, sculpture, typography, graphic and industrial design of the twentieth century. “Art has a unique opportunity to form a counterpoint to the technology-ridden, polluted and commercialized consumer civilization,” he said, in a 1972 interview.

Simple Design

Max Bill’s designs are thoughtful, simple and reflect the ideas of the Concrete Art Movement, which began in the 1930s, based on the idea that the work of art emanate from the mind of the artist, without sentiment, and appear more machine made than hand made.

Much of the work that Bill, and other concrete artists, produced were based on mathematical concepts that focused on basic planes, forms and color. In 1944, Bill organized the first international exhibition of Concrete Art.

The designs were a far cry from the ornate Victorian Era and subsequent Deco design that prevailed at the turn of, and at the start of, the twentieth century. Bill’s minimalist designs were often ridiculed, although he eventually became the single most influential artist in Swiss graphic design by the mid-twentieth century.

The concept of Concrete Art applied not only to sculpture, but all design medium.  Combillation,  a four-panel geometric design, created by Bill in 1970, reflects his minimalist ideals, and is for sale at VFA.

Art has a unique opportunity to form a counterpoint to the technology-ridden, polluted and commercialized consumer civilization.”

The Watch

In 1961, Bill began an association with Junghans, the oldest watch and clock makers in Germany, established in 1861. The watch is simple and elegant in design. The numbers on the watch, liked the curved number four on the first models, reflect Bill’s gift for restraint in his typography. The Junghans company still makes Max Bill watches, with new editions that continue to reflect his Bauhaus sensibility that “form follows function.”

Complex Ideas

Max Bill was not just a creative artist, he was a political activist, as well. For fifty years he was secretly watched by the Swiss National Security. Their dossier on Bill dates back to 1936, when he had hidden a journalist who was being persecuted in Nazi Germany. He often gave sanctuary to both Jewish and political refugees, and was repeatedly, and heavily, fined for “not registering persons seeking shelter”.

After World War ll, Bill was assigned a key role in assisting the Allies in implementing the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Germany. Max Bill was the architect and first director of the Ulm School of Design in Germany in 1955. The school based its teaching on Bauhaus design and principles. It was closed in 1968 by a former Nazi judge, Hans Filbinger, who was then minister president of Baden-Württemberg.

In 1961, Bill was elected to the Zurich municipal council and was a Federal Parliament deputy from 1967 to 1971 as a member of the Independent Landesring Party. Throughout his lifetime, Bill continued to create works in the many fields in which he was so adept. He wrote about good design, saying that he hoped to design places and objects that would bring order to the world “from spoon to town”.

Max Bill at VFA

Please contact us for more information about Combillation or any of the works available for sale at VFA.

See More Max Bill Artwork for Sale

Free Ebook: How to Identify and Buy Fine Art Prints

Free Ebook: How to Identify and Buy Fine Art Prints

We believe that the more you know, the more you will appreciate fine art prints.

In our Ebook you’ll learn:

  • A short history of prints from the earliest woodcut to contemporary processes
  • Which artists most influenced the making of fine art prints
  • What questions to ask when buying prints
  • The fundamentals of print identification
  • Terms and techniques for identifying fine art prints
Learn More