A short introduction

Art education USA, 4 kb When graphic designer and teacher Armin Hofmann was awarded the Art Price of the City of Basel in November 1997, not too many people in Basel knew about him or knew what he got the prize money of 20'000 swiss francs for (about 15'000 US$). Just to be on the safe side, the city councilors arranged for a small private exhibition of some of his posters for the guests of the award ceremony so they could form their own opinion about his work, as the official announcement put it.

However, at his school, the Schule fuer Gestaltung, where he taught graphic design for 40 years until 1986, they still know him very well, and he has the status of a cult figure among students and teachers alike. In many american art schools, his textbook is required reading and his teaching methods and ideas still influence their curriculum. He may be better known in Tokyo or New York than at home and has received high honors from prestigious institutions all over the world.

Art education in the USA
1960, exhibition poster

The local newspaper Basler Zeitung then had the good idea to show some of his posters in its weekend edition of November 22, 1997, and so it was high time for Rene Wanner's Poster Page to also give its tribute to Armin Hofmann, and that's the origin of my third web poster exhibition. These are the posters that were in the paper:

Theater poster, 8 kb
William Tell
1963, Poster on the play by Schiller, where the hero is forced by a tyrant to shoot an apple from his own child's head with his bow. The perspective drawing of the letters TELL lets you feel the flight of the arrow
Theater poster, 11 kb
Municipal Theater Basel 63/64
1963, Theater poster for the whole season. The weekly program was attached to it
Concert poster, 9 kb
Carl Orff, Carmina Burana
1993, Concert poster. The poster was originally designed in 1986, and is used regularly, with different lettering. I saw one on the street last week.
Exhibition poster, 5 kb
Kunsthalle Basel, Young dutch sculptors
1958, exhibition poster
Exhibition poster, 3 kb
Kunsthalle Basel, Rothko, Chillida
1964, exhibition poster
Exhibition poster, 8 kb
Basel Museum of Applied Art, Lace
1969, exhibition poster

The teacher Armin Hofmann is considered one of the leading figures of the so-called Basel School, being part of the Swiss School. What is the Basel School ?

Some attach this label to the whole group of graphic designers that ever worked in Basel, from Burkhard Mangold and Niklaus Stoecklin to Herbert Leupin or Wolfgang Weingart and all their students. It is indeed remarkable how many well known graphic designers had their origins in this small city of 250' 000 in northern Switzerland. Others would limit the period to the Armin Hofmann years, possibly including those of his predecessor Emil Ruder.

Still others characterize it by "simplicity, sans serif, color limitation or hard edge". I also like the joking definition of Swiss Style as "Helvetica on a grid" (I am quoting Ken Hiebert and April Greiman, two famous Basel students, a bit out of context).

It may be more instructive to hear what Armin Hofmann himself says about his poster work:

With my simply constructed black-and-white posters, I have endeavored to do something to counteract the increasing trivialization of color, evident since the Second World War on billboards, in modern utensils and in the entertainment industry. (in Armin Hofmann, His Work, Quest and Philosophy )

Whatever the essentials of the Basel School may be, here is an inside look of the Basel School of Design in late November 1997:

Picture of poster exhibition, 10 kb

Introduction More Posters Biography Publications Thanks & ©

go back to main page
page last revised on January 22, 1998 /