Max Huber, that genius
(Luca Magnanelli Weitensfelder, no.65 Purple Lilac - The Possibilities)
Max Huber (1919-1992) was a great graphic designer. Yes, but ... What does a graphic designer do? I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that his job is to communicate a concept expressed in words through symbols, as effectively as possible. Which is pretty amusing, considering that human civilization has taken a long time to move from a symbolic language to a concrete one. In the course of evolution sounds were transformed into syllables, words, phrases, discourses. The ability to communicate and to learn without direct experience has enabled us to travel on a fast track, allowing us to survive ferocious beasts or rugged climatic conditions. As much as human beings might be good at remembering, at a certain point they had the need to record information. Perhaps it all started by counting the days and then, as soon as a sufficiently developed society evolved, counting merchandise, cattle, oil, wineskins, and bags of seeds. If in the beginning man relied on an abstract and symbolic language, perhaps for religious reasons, practical requirements such as trade led him to develop a system of writing devoid of allegorical meanings, the main function of which was to be the transmission of data. Literature did not follow immediately; in fact it took several centuries. In the middle of the fifteenth century once again it will be trade that will give new stimuli, giving birth to the art of graphic design. Previously nobles had commissioned unique works; now the new middle class was pushing merchants to mass-produce, adopting production techniques used by metal engravers. In 1455, for the same reasons, the printing press by Johann Gutenberg was introduced, which, to be fair had already been invented in Korea in 1234, under the Goryeo dynasty. "Graphic" techniques became part of the production systems, from fabrics to typographical prints, but the entity "designer" was still unknown. Between the nineteenth and twentieth century came the second industrial revolution, which brought with it something new: competition. Those who had a commercial activity had to find a way to stand out from the crowd. This gave origin to the modern concept of advertising. A new profession, which needed a new professional representative: the graphic designer. One of the earliest and most influential was William Morris, a staunch defender of the uniqueness of the artist's work, which according to him had to be preserved even when applied to industrial production. Paradoxically the principal founders of the Arts and Crafts movement, could be found amongst those who in some way helped to make it possible for industries to mass-produce art. The need to attract the attention of consumers led to the advent of the advertising poster. At the turn of the century a large group of exceptional artists produced works of art, not for kings, emperors and noblemen in general, and not even for the Church; their clients were entrepreneurs. Jules Cheret (1836-1932), Adolf Hohenstein (1854-1928), Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), Aleardo Villa (1865-1906), Metlicovitz Leopold (1868-1944), Giovanni Maria Mataloni (1869-1944), Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942), Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), Marcello Dudovich (1878-1962), Federico Seneca (1891-1976), Armando Testa (1917-1992).
These are just a few, and a review of their work will show how high the artistic standard was, and how evident the connection between art and advertising. Of course everything is destined to evolve, even artists. Marinetti, for example, began to use characters as graphical elements, laying some the foundations of modern graphics. Bearing in mind the enormous influence of the Bauhaus between 1919 and 1933, that somehow conceptualized the figure of the modern designer, we return our attention to Max Huber. Born in 1919 in Baar, a Swiss citizen, he began studying engraving at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zurich. However the passion for photography, and a fascination with Russian Futurism, directed him towards a research based on a concept of graphical abstract visual art. Yet Huber's work is far from being abstract, indeed it is very concrete and solid. Not by chance in 1947 he unveils in Milan, together with architect Lanfranco Bombelli Tiravanti, and with the assistance of Max Bill, both of whom inspired him, the exhibition Art Abstract and Concrete, the precise intention of which is to reveal a new artistic attitude and mark a boundary between Abstraction and Concretism. The power of his communication skills, despite the complete lack of banality in his work, is immediately apparent. His experiments in the darkroom led him to explore the language of the play of light and shadow, probably inspiring in him the idea of overlapping geometric shapes. After working at Conzett & Huber, in 1940 he moved to Milan to work in the studio Boggeri and studying at the Accademia di Brera. After his return to Switzerland until 1945, during which he worked for the magazine Due and participates in Allianz (the Swiss Association of art abstract and concrete artists), he returns to Milan and is given the commission by Giulio Einaudi to update the graphics of the homonymous Publishing House. In the following years his work will mark indelibly many Italian brands such as La Rinascente, Olivetti, Esselunga, Legler (and RAI, ENI and Montecatini, in collaboration with Achille Castiglioni and Erberto Carboni). To name but a few. With his typically Swiss rationality Huber integrated magnificently with the vitality of the Milanese environment, especially after World War II, manifesting himself in an explosion of colours. The ability to blend together painting and graphics, minimalist geometric architecture and proficient use of colour, the ability to create compositions by deconstructing and superimposing component elements, with the overall scope of communicating with strength and in an unconventional manner, make Max Huber a champion of graphic design. His arrangements of graphical elements in a kaleidoscopic visual dance make him resemble a musician, because he manages to impart rhythm to his compositions. In some way he has closed the circle first opened when the early hominids drew on cave walls. He has recreated a language of symbols, able to awaken the hidden archetypes dormant in our minds. A good way to navigate through the work of the Swiss graphic designer is by going to visit the m.a.x.museo in Chiasso (Switzerland), which opened on 12 November 2005. The modern structure, designed by architects Durisch and Nolli, is well suited to accommodate not only the permanent exhibition of the work of Max Huber, but also the various exhibitions that are presented to visitors.