Neue Grafik from Switzerland to the world

From a brochure advertising Neue Grafik, No. 1, 1958.

Brochure advertising Neue Grafik, No. 1

The history of Neue Grafik magazine, which appeared between 1958 and 1965 in 16 single issues and a double issue, has not yet been written. It is true that standard works and occasional publications on commercial graphics in the 20th century repeatedly feature the cover picture of the magazine, although there are references to connections between 'Gute Form' and Neue Grafik. The origins and impact of this Swiss magazine on 20th century graphics, which is one of the world's most influential publications on graphic design, have not yet been researched.

The classification of Neue Grafik under terms such as “International Typographic Style” or “Objective-Functional Typography” saves book editors and authors from analysing a magazine whose task was by far not just to be the mouthpiece of Swiss graphics around 1960. Because not only was the content new to the Neue Grafik, the historical situation and the group profile were also new.

For the first time, a magazine on design was published where the creators – Richard Paul Lohse, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Hans Neuburg and Carlo L. Vivarelli – determined the content and design collectively, without hierarchy and chief editorial staff. On February 15, 1956, these future editors met in the Zurich restaurant Seilbahn to discuss the establishment of a magazine for new graphics. But it will be another two years before the magazine is produced. In retrospect, this meeting of the later Neue Grafik editors shows that although the systematic approach to problems of design and some biographical experience linked them, the four designers set different priorities in their work.

Richard Paul Lohse, painter and graphic artist, co-founder of the Allianz, the association of modern Swiss artists. He has extensive experience in the complex organisation of magazines thanks to the development work for Bauen + Wohnen. Among other things, he sees his task in the editorial team of Neue Grafik as "to be the link between the free artistic side and graphics".

Lohse knows Hans Neuburg, born in 1904, from working together at the Max Dalang advertising agency in Zurich. Neuburg was a copywriter there; from the beginning of the thirties he worked as a consultant and designer, primarily for industry. Sulzer, Feller and Philips are among his clients. With exhibition reviews, he does important communication work for modern art in Switzerland, but he also writes sports reports. In 1952 he was the editor and designer of the catalog for the “World Exhibition of Photography” in Lucerne, for which Lohse put together the architecture, photography and art departments.

While Lohse and Neuburg experienced the period of the First World War and the political changes of 1918/19 just as consciously as the rapid change in art-isms around 1920, while both were recognized nationwide for their commercial graphics in the 1930s and 1940s. Josef Müller-Brockmann and Carlo L. Vivarelli belonged to a generation whose graphic work did not attract the attention and success of a broader public until after the Second World War.

Josef Müller-Brockmann, who was born in 1914, only includes one example of his graphic work from the years before 1945 in his monograph published in 1994. After Müller-Brockmann was accepted into the Association of Swiss Graphic Artists (VSG) in 1937 and there became acquainted with Lohse and Neuburg, further professional success was delayed by active service, he served in the Swiss Army for the entire duration of the war. From 1945 onwards, his commercial graphics were initially drawn in an illustrative manner. In 1951 he turned to freely composed and soon to constructive graphics. Müller-Brockmann's strictly systematic designs began with posters for music events and the Swiss Automobile Club in 1953.

Carlo L. Vivarelli, born in Zurich in 1919, after completing his training at the Zurich School of Applied Arts, he worked with the art deco graphic artist Paul Colin in Paris. At the beginning of the Second World War he was assigned to service in Switzerland and obtained Swiss citizenship. In 1946 he was appointed artistic director of the "Boggeri" studio in Milan, for which the photographer and typographers Xanti Schawinsky and Max Huber previously worked. Vivarelli returned to Zurich in 1947. In parallel to his commercial graphic work, Vivarelli began painting in 1950 and in 1960 sculpture was added as a further form of artistic expression.

In the introduction of the first edition of Neue Grafik, dated September 1958 and delivered in mid-November, the publishers, together with the director of Otto Walter Verlag, Josef Rast, present the magazine's program: “Not the modern for its own sake or the daring, the original at any price seems to them [the editors] to strive for, but rather the solution achieved by tectonic means." Die Neue Grafik doesn't just want to present, it wants to also argue, explain, enlighten, teach, document. [...] In contrast to existing publications, the attitude of the Neue Grafik is exclusive, consistent and without any concessions.

A distinction is made here from existing graphic magazines. The Neue Grafik team understands graphic design as an aspect of comprehensive activity in industrial society: It's about visualising communication, not advertising; not about the perpetual change of fashions, but about the historical conditions of modernity; about complex systems with variable components and not about individual artistic ideas.

This concern requires diligence, thought and knowledge, both from the publishers of the magazine and from their readers. Because the Neue Grafik should be read, not just looked at: no picture on the cover beckons. The long columns of text on the first pages make clear that this is not illustrated, but informed. And because the title and inside pages are based on the same grid, the highlighting of individual topics or authors is prevented – no first among equals should distinguish itself here. As in the 'ulm', which was founded in parallel, and before the British 'form', this opens up the magazine content to the outside world.

The Neue Grafik fundamentally breaks with the continuation of the tried and tested, replacing the symmetrical type, with modular grid systems, and instead of calligraphic ornamentation and charming illustration, the magazine uses photography in printed matter and the typeface Univers", Neue Haas-Grotesk [Helvetica) and Folio, whose use in accordance with the grid determines the objective Swiss graphics of the sixties with their worldwide impact. The magazine not only serves to inform or disseminate a new international style in typography, in addition to the pure information about the current use of graphic means and processes, the articles indirectly convey ideas of contemporary environmental design: The household is fully electrified; the apartment will be furnished with functional furniture for Zurich's housing needs; modern pharmaceuticals and medical technology help with illness; trains, airplanes or newly planned road constructions that master geological areas with the help of new construction machines make travel comfortable. The beat of this life, technical civilisation, which transcends language and national borders, is no longer beating the metronome or the Swiss precision clock, it comes from the canned sound of a modern jazz recording; modern office machines make it easier to work; leisure time is not determined by amusement or shopping; instead, visits to exhibitions or concerts serve to develop a comprehensive personality.

It starts with Richard Paul Lohse's programmatic essay “The Influence of Modern Art on Contemporary Graphics” in Neue Grafik, No. 1. Starting from Cubism, Lohse establishes the word / image / structural relationships in Dadaism and Futurism, Surrealism and New Objectivity, De Stijl and Russian Constructivism; the use of artistic discoveries for posters and brochures, in order to present factual Swiss commercial graphics since the late twenties via the Dessau Bauhaus and the Swiss magazine ABC. In this context, Lohse emphasises the importance of his former teacher at the Zurich School of Applied Arts, Ernst Keller, "as the" founder of an expressive flat style in Switzerland "and shows works by Anton Stankowski (from 1930) and Max Bill (from 1931), Max Huber (1945), Karl Gerstner (1956) and Mary Vieira (1957) as well as commercial examples from his three editorial colleagues from 1946 to 1955.

By pointing out the diverse relationships and mutual influences of art and visual communication Lohse succeeds not only in emphasising the Swiss influence on the international commercial graphics of that time, but also in delimiting this Swiss graphic as a primarily Zurich pioneering product. Lohse and Neuburg were contemporary witnesses of Dadaism in Zurich, and they had also experienced and helped shape the spread of Constructivism; the younger ones - Josef Müller-Brockmann and Carlo L Vivarelli - were familiar with the diverse artistic movements from the thirties, from geometrical-constructive tendencies to surrealism. In particular, the adoption of elements of Constructivism in typography, as suggested in Zurich around 1930 by the work of Anton Stankowski, had a formative effect on LMNV's commercial graphics as well as on other Zurich-based artists and graphic designers. In addition, there was the influence of teaching at the Bauhaus and the work of Herbert Bayer, for example, on the Graphics by Max Bill and Herbert Matter. On the other hand, teaching at the Allgemeine Gewerbeschule in Basel was less based on artistic experimentation than – thanks to the work of Jan Tschichold, who went back to classic typography – on detailed knowledge of the rules of typesetting and canonised proportions and conveying graphic techniques and material science.

It is therefore logical for Lohse's topic and essay that – unlike in the article, Hans Neuburg's " The best modern posters in Switzerland 1931-1957 " in the same edition of Neue Grafik – Examples of Emil Ruder and Armin Hofmann, who teach at the Basel trade school, are missing, although "both were initially discussed as members of the editorial team at Neue Grafik". The work of Basel-based Mary Vieira and Karl Gerstner, on the other hand, already represent a generation whose graphic and artistic training fell into the post-war period and who got to know the work of the Zurich pioneering generation as role models.

When Lohse emphasises the influence of modern art on contemporary graphics, he is not interested in the description and illustration of a closed historical fact, but in the presentation of the justification and meaning of large formal forms for contemporary graphics. Lohse shows the calculated grid organisation of the surface and the economy of the means, the rhythmisation of the surface forms and the use of printing technology for color accentuation as the commercial graphic consequences of the constructive-concrete art discoveries in the succession of Cubism.

With his programmatic overview, Lohse introduces a series of articles on historical topics in the Neue Grafik. Extensive overall representations of the typography of Futurism, at De Stil and at the Bauhaus, follow from guest authors. Hans Neuburg comments on Anton Stankowski's achievements in Zurich and for the first time places the importance of the Max Dalang agency in an international context. In Neue Grafik, No. 9 (March 1961), the typographic structures of the Polish avant-garde from 1920 to 1930 can be discovered.

The new graphic also overcomes political boundaries. In his article "A Pioneer of Photomontage, John Heartfield" (No. 8, 1960) Richard Paul Lohse shows Heartfield's work for the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung as well as the Malik and Neue Deutsche Verlag from the twenties and thirties. Knowing the outrage to be expected about these montages, which were created as a means of socialist agitation, Lohse states that the editors of Neue Grafik “do not publish here because of the political content, but as documents of an intense and burning creative will”. The statement cleverly placed at the end of the first column of the article has a calming effect on representatives of an apolitical conception of design. In the further course of the text, however, in the penultimate sentence, there is a statement by Lohse who is convinced of the correctness of Heartfield's image-text montages: “In these works, intention and ideology are supported by a photographic idea and a realism that is due to a lapidary accuracy and the truth of an artistic-visionary idea.”

With the article "Dust jackets from the thirties of the Gutenberg Book Guild", in issue 16 (July 1963), the penultimate edition of Neue Grafik, Lohse, classifies his own work in the history of modern graphics. Unlike the other articles he restricts himself to a few, large-format illustrations of historical subjects. As a last example from his extensive work for the cooperative, socially committed book guild, he chooses a color variant of the protective Umschlages Kautschuk (1947), the blue bars of which are fitted into the grid at the top of the magazine page without any print format limitation. By using the free space on the side and the connection with the adjacent right-hand side, Lohse achieves a light, almost floating impression of the image and text areas. In addition, there is a historical and content-related relationship between Lohse's horizontal order of rows in 1947 and the neighbouring Almir Mavigniers posters that were created in 1961 and 1962. The sequence of images unobtrusively refers to the international spread and development of constructive-concrete art, for which Lohse has made a significant contribution with its modular and serial arrangements since the 1940s. As an example, the double page shows how LMNV does not consider history to be complete in the case of Neue Grafik, but rather connects history and topicality through the connection between content and graphic arrangement.

This connection also stimulates other magazine editors and designers. For the English Typographica, Herbert Spencer takes over the new graphic ideas to present the foundations of modernism for commercial graphics as well. Generously illustrated and strikingly designed, the Typographica articles on John Heartfield, Alexander Rodtschenko, Diter Rot (Dieter Roth), Kurt Schwitters or Piet Zwart do not always achieve the depth on the same topic as in Neue Grafik.

Lohse also uses the treatment of contemporary issues to present exemplary achievements, but also attaches great importance to questions of principle. In Neue Grafik, No. 2 (July 1959) he reports in continuation of his book New Exhibition Design about the Expo '58 in Brussels. He restricts the selection of images to factually, modularly constructed buildings from a few nations. Particular attention is paid to the use of color and font for organising the exhibition. As a consequence of his considerations on the economy and design of exhibitions, instead of changing nationally organised world exhibitions, Lohse proposes a permanent international comparative exhibition as a constantly updated inventory of global ones. Lohse's philosophical-political stance with the demand for an international community of free and equal people flows into the proposal, which takes into account the development of technology and design.

In volume 3 [October 1959] he published the remarks “On the sociological situation of the graphic artist”, a profession that Lohse continued to practice for many years after his international recognition as a painter. First of all, he describes the historical situation that the profession of graphic designer requires, refers to the competitive economy as a prerequisite for the job description, in order to then assign the graphic designer an "intermediate position between free art and commercial art". The fact that commercial graphics can learn from constructive-concrete art, but that it lacks recognition in contrast to constructive or new graphics, can be read as a description of his own life experience.

Another tragic aspect of Lohse's point of view is that the graphics assigned to the ever shorter product cycles have to be changed frequently and that graphic work and its authors are quickly forgotten - a process that Neue Grafik counteracts with its articles that focus on historical topics.

The series of Neue Grafik ends with the double issue 17/18 (February 1965). More than a year after the previous edition 16 (July 1963), this final volume covers Object and reportage photography, as well as the influence of the Bauhaus on design in the 20th century, posters from recent years – including Lohse's poster for the “Musical Instruments” exhibition at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Zurich (1962) – are presented and examples from teaching and design are shown from Zurich to Tokyo. Another article deals with Lohse's work for Zurich's housing needs – this time Lohse explains his advertisements and folders, brochures and catalog sheets himself.

With the last issue, Neue Grafik has actually become international, as the editors hoped at the beginning, not only in terms of its themes, but also in terms of its impact. The declaration of farewell attached to issue 17/18 speaks of an interruption and the intention to continue the publication of new graphics “perhaps in a similar external form, but in the form of an extensive annual volume with consistent and more tightly chosen content”.

But the continuation also takes place without the annual: In Zurich and Ulm, Basel or London, the new graphics are studied around the world, their illustrations analysed and their explanations recorded and further developed. The sensible construction in the design, the thinking in systems, leads to the complex corporate design developments of the sixties and seventies, to the socially critical questioning of who designs serve, to the responsible use of reason instead of the instrumentation of creativity. The fact that this process has not yet been completed does not change the fact that, from 1958 at the latest, it had a significant impact on commercial graphics in the world from Zurich – also with and through Lohse's exemplary work.

Michael Lenz.

This is an excerpt – full text published in Richard Paul Lohse Graphic Design 1928–1988, Hatje Cantz 2002