Modern Master

Herbert Bayer's genius is on display at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.

He oversaw the restoration of Victorian houses and the Wheeler Opera House. He designed a series of modernist buildings to house the Aspen Institute, which was built in a campus-like setting at the edge of town. As part of the same master plan, Bayer also designed Aspen Meadows and an apartment complex and health facility, which were among the first buildings that he ever constructed.

The complex includes some astoundingly forward-looking outdoor installations, including "marble garden," created from found marble fragments set on end, and "grass mound," a conceptual site plan anchored by a dirt mound covered with grass.

Overseeing the redevelopment of a town and planning a new conference center would seem to be enough to keep anyone busy, but Bayer was doing a lot of other things. He designed many buildings for CCA, including a research center in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, that also incorporated earthworks. And he was taking on freelance jobs designing posters. There are several notable examples of these posters in A Visual Voice, but the best is the incredible "Ski in Aspen," from 1947, which depicts a skier framed by an Aspen leaf, and "Ski Broadmoor," from 1959, in which skiers' tracks form the letter B.

"mountain picture," by Herbert Bayer, oil on panel.
"mountain picture," by Herbert Bayer, oil on panel.
"Ski in Aspen," by Herbert Bayer, lithograph.
"Ski in Aspen," by Herbert Bayer, lithograph.

Details

Through October 1, Philip J. Steele Gallery on the RMCAD campus, 1600 Pierce Street, Lakewood, 303-225-8587

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It might be hard to imagine that he had the time, but Bayer was simultaneously creating a large body of fine art. The Aspen years marked a major shift in his fine-art style, bringing it more in line with his architecture and sculpture. In the '40s, he began moving away from surrealism and toward organic abstraction. A Visual Voice includes some examples of this, such as the two prints from the series "7 convolutions," which were done at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center School, perhaps at its Aspen campus.

By the late '50s and continuing into the '80s, Bayer's paintings and prints became more geometric, and he increasingly employed straight and curved lines. The Steele display is particularly rich in work of this sort, including the tapestry "ordered amassment."

Bayer met Robert O. Anderson, president of the Atlantic Richfield Corporation, through the Aspen Institute, and in 1966 he left CCA and went to ARCO. He created murals, tapestries, sculptures and environmental projects for the corporation's various properties. Anderson personally sponsored Bayer's most ambitious earthwork, Anderson Park, done in 1973, which includes a series of grass-covered mounds and sculptural installations.

Closely akin to Bayer's minimalist paintings, prints and buildings were several proposed monumental sculptures that can be described as both lyrical and austere. Bayer formed these minimalist sculptures, most of which exist only in maquettes, by arranging identical rectilinear or cylindrical elements. The first full-sized one was erected in Mexico City as part of the 1968 Summer Olympics; a decade later, "articulated wall" was erected in Denver. For A Visual Voice, a third one, "gate with concentric circles" -- built by the RMCAD sculpture department based on the plaster model -- is temporarily installed outside on the green.

Though Bayer had lived in Aspen for decades, by 1975 his failing health forced him to leave. He relocated to Santa Barbara, California, where he continued to do commissions for ARCO. Though he could have slowed down, he didn't, creating a series of incredible post-minimalist paintings and prints before his death in 1985. These works from the '70s and '80s are called the "anthologies," and a group of them are included at the Steele. The hard-edged abstractions incorporate feathery color fields and can be easily compared with the style of geometric abstractionist Clark Richert, who teaches at RMCAD. It would be great if the two artists were paired in some future outing.

A Visual Voice is an important exhibit, but there are only a few days left to see it. On Friday, September 30, at 11 a.m., Bayer enthusiasts H. Kirk Brown III and Hugo Anderson will give a gallery talk. Anderson, who is Robert O. Anderson's nephew, and Brown are among Visual's lenders, a group that also includes Brown's wife, Jill A. Wiltse, and the Bayer family. If you haven't seen this show yet -- and not many have -- you should get out to RMCAD as soon as possible.

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