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Visual primer

Richard Paul Lohse: Graphic Design 1928-1988 By Christoph Bignens et al. Hatje Cantz, 2002. 312pp. £65

Concrete Art in Europe since 1945 By Dietmar Gaderian et al. Hatje Cantz, 2002. 288pp. £39.95.

Both books are distributed by Art Books International 023 922 830000 From 1948-56, the Swiss artist Richard Paul Lohse was co-editor and designer of the magazine Bauen + Wohnen (Building + Home), and responsible for fundamental changes in its content and presentation.

What before had been an undemanding repository for 'Swiss regional style and moderate Classicism', became Modernist and international in scope. Mies, Chermayeff, Fuller, Prouvé, Eames all appeared, alongside younger architects such as Aldo van Eyck, with space devoted rather to prefabrication than the individualistic forms of Oscar Nieymeyer, for instance.

Lohse took a position, which his design reinforced, with its emphatic grids, strong use of colour, and studied integration of text and image - all reflecting his commitment to Constructive art, and in close parallel to the modular and serial strategies he pursued in his paintings of that time. For painting was primary for Lohse; graphic design paid the bills. But, as Richard Paul Lohse: Graphic Design 1928-1988 reveals, it was an important part of his life at least until the mid-60s, with clients from industry to the fore.

The book itself is remarkably elegant in design. And by deftly putting Lohse's work in a broader context, indicating its relationship with his painting and its place amid other graphic trends, it is a much less specialist volume than one might think, becoming instead a rich visual primer and resource.

Lohse the painter is prominent in Concrete Art in Europe since 1945 - the catalogue to some 250 paintings, reliefs and sculptures amassed by the German collector Peter C Ruppert, which form the new Museum im Kulturspeicher, Wurzburg, housed in a former granary by the River Main.

The term Concrete Art originates in the manifesto that Theo van Doesburg wrote for the one and only edition of the magazine Art Concret in 1930. Van Doesburg argued for an abstract art that would draw on the previous researches of Constructivism, the Bauhaus and De Stijl; in practice, the terms Concrete and Constructive are often interchangeable, and certainly the British artists Ruppert has collected - Victor Pasmore, for instance - would have called their idiom Constructive.

Forgetting the label, what about the art?

Ranging across Europe for examples (clearly something of a 'completist'), Ruppert has made a surprisingly diverse collection of - what one essay in the book aptly calls - 'quiet abodes of geometry'. As the two principal centres of post-war activity in this field, Zurich and Paris are properly acknowledged - and Günther Fruhtrunk stands out in the latter. But it is Zurich-based Lohse who shows most persuasively how engaging this approach to art can be.

Fifteen systematic colour rows with vertical and horizontal concentration (1950/67) sounds like a dry recipe, a scientific study - but the result, for all the internal logic and candour about how it is made, is something else. Like all the best pieces in this well-illustrated book, it suggests that 'systematic' procedures and inherent order, informed by the right sensibility, offer just as much as more obviously personal, expressive 'gestures'; not just a lesson for art, of course.

In the remote Texan town of Marfa, you can open the door of a former barracks building at Fort D Russell and find Lohse's paintings: it is no surprise that Lohse was so admired by Donald Judd.

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