Hail Bernhard the Magnificent

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The Priester Match poster is a watershed document of modern graphic
design, or rather, proto-Modern design. Its composition is so stark and
its colors so startling that it captures the viewer’s eye in an instant.
Before 1906, when the poster first appeared on the streets of Berlin,
persuasive simplicity was a rare thing in most advertising: posters,
especially, tended to be wordy and ornate. No one had yet heard of its
young creator, who, thanks to this poster, was to influence the genre
of advertising known as the Sachplakat, or object poster.

“Over the course of his career, which progressed from the turn of the century to the 1950s, Lucian Bernhard
became a prolific designer not only of innovative posters but of
trademarks, packaging, type, textiles, furniture, and interior design.
From his studio in New York City (he left Berlin in 1922), he
developed some of the most recognizable American business advertising
and trademarks, for such clients as Cat’s Paw, ExLax, and Amoco. He also designed more than thirty-five popular display typefaces, including Bernhard Gothic.”

Bernhard has, of course, been acknowledged in design histories, but a
full-bore exhibition of his work is needed to re-establish his
importance in the twenty-first century. Enter the IFA (Institut für
Auslandsbeziechungen) in Stuttgart with a planned traveling exhibit “Lucian Bernhard: Advertising and Design at the Dawn of the 20th Century.” At present its only planned venue is at the Goethe Institut in Kiev, Ukraine (Jan 1 – June 30, 2011). But if we wish hard enough, and someone in this country contacts IFA about the feasibility of the exhibit coming to the United States, then maybe that wish will come true.

In the meantime, a catalog from an earlier exhibit is available in German and English here, including a text by his son and collaborator, Karl Bernhard.
 

 


About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes a weekly column for The Atlantic online and is the "Visuals" Columnist for the New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of over 160 books on design and visual culture. And he is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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