Armin Hofmann in Color

Armin Hofmann—Color (Armin Hofmann—Farbe) is an exhibition, or rather “a project,” by Fabienne Ruppen and Christof Nüssli that opens Wednesday, August 29, starting precisely at 6 p.m., and continues from August 30–September 28 at Galerie Susanna Kulli in Zürich.

Until now, attention to the Swiss graphic design pioneer Armin Hofmann’s oeuvre has focused on his posters, which are largely in black and white. This exhibition provides the first in-depth look at his intense engagement with color. Its centerpiece is a portfolio of silkscreen prints that is unique in Hofmann’s oeuvre. The silkscreen portfolio is complemented by writings and sketches from Hofmann’s private archive, and problems he assigned in his classes. Recollections of four of his former students—Philip Burton, April Greiman, Aki Nurosi, and Moritz Zwimpfer—open up new perspectives on Hofmann’s interest with issues of color. Here is more from the project leaders:

Each of the twelve plates in the portfolio, created between 1989 and 1999, shows four triangles arranged in a square. By eliminating light-dark contrasts, Hofmann was able to focus on color as such and the contrasts specific to it — cold–warm and luminous–dull, as well as contrasts in hue and quantity. As Hofmann emphasizes, the twelve plates should not be regarded as final results; they are guideposts in a process, and their order is variable. The reduction to a single problem held constant led him to a more nuanced vision and a growing awareness of the sensual qualities of color: “When you work in this manner, you become ever more refined, more sensitive.”

Hofmann sought to raise his students’ understanding of  the effects of color. This was not an authoritative system of color; rather, he sought to reconcile the individual qualities in color perception. Of particular interest in connection with the silkscreen portfolio, which Hofmann describes as “a sort of account of my pedagogical activities,” is a problem he assigned in a class in 1984.

Art for public spaces was the only field of his practice in which Hofmann used color as a defining artistic element. As in the silkscreen portfolio and in his classes on color, the study of the relativity of chromatic values was central. The critical examination of the role of the mark in its context pervades Hofmann’s entire oeuvre. The engagement with color added another layer to this complex issue and may be seen as bringing further nuance and elaboration to his teaching of form.

I asked Christof Nüssli to talk more about the project and what he learned from Hofmann that made his relationship an exceptional experience.

How did this exhibition come to be?

I did work on the inventory of Armin Hofmann’s private archive where I found the silkscreen portfolio that is unique in Armin’s oeuvre. It quickly became clear that the aspect of color in Armin’s work and teaching has never been shown in a wider context and that there is a big lack of knowledge. With the exhibition, Fabienne Ruppen and I want to make works, sketches, and writing of Armin’s that is connected to this issue accessible to public. We had two interviews with Armin about color, specifically about the silkscreen portfolio and the art for public spaces.

Where you and Fabienne students of Armin?

Fabienne is an art historian and doctoral candidate at the Univerisity of Zurich. I was once a student of Matthias Hofmann (Armin’s son) in Zurich. I’m studying now at Werkplaats Typografie in the Netherlands. We are both in our mid-20s and therefore way too young to be Armin’s students.

What would you say is Armin’s most significant contribution to design?

We all know that he made some of the best posters in the 20th century. But he was not only an outstanding designer. He was in the same way or even more a teacher who influenced generations of designers. Armin Hofmann was a teacher in everything he did. All his posters, art-for-public-space projects, and other design works address a certain question to the beholder and activate his individual perception and thinking. Armin believed in reduction of form and instruments, always appropriate to the content of an assignment, resisting any dogma.

Is Armin still actively working? 

Armin is 93 years old and he’s not working anymore.

Will he attend the opening?

Because of his age and his health he can’t be at the opening, but his wife and son will probably be there.

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For more on Swiss design, download Katherine McCoy MP3 presentation Swiss in America at MyDesignShop.com.

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