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Putting the European Avant-garde to Work for Capitalism

Walter P. Paepcke and the Alliance of Art and Business in the United States (1930–1950)
Julie Jones
Cet article est une traduction de :
L’avant-garde européenne au service du capitalisme

Résumé

A key figure in the history of transatlantic relations in the first half of the twentieth century and more specifically in the history of so-called ‘advertising art,’ Walter P. Paepcke (1896–1960) was an American industrialist who came from a family of German immigrants. As president of the Container Corporation of America, one of the largest and most important packaging companies of the period between the wars, he became active as a sponsor of culture and modern art in the United States beginning in the 1930s. His art director, Egbert Jacobson, commissioned numerous advertisements from American and émigré European artists such as Fernand Léger, Man Ray, György Kepes, Herbert Bayer, and Herbert Matter. Paepcke also helped to rescue the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago, directed by László Moholy-Nagy, from financial ruin. His support, which consisted of personal donations as well as efforts to raise funds from other donors, including the Rockefeller Foundation, enabled the school’s photography and advertising department to receive the subsidies it needed to continue operating. In 1950, Paepcke founded the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, where Ferenc Berko was put in charge of organizing the Aspen Photography Conference, which was held the following year and served as one of the catalysts for the creation of the magazine Aperture.

Texte intégral

The author wishes to thank Thierry Gervais and Olivier Lugon.

You represent for me the rare exception of a man in power and leadership who seriously tries to fuse business with cultural progress.

–Walter Gropius, letter to Walter Paepcke, February 28, 1945*

  • 1 For more on this subject, see the article by Neil Harris, ‘Designs on Demand,’ in the exhibition ca (...)

1The years of economic depression that followed the crisis of 1929 in the United States disrupted the American system of sponsorship of the arts and sparked its restructuring. Two new actors emerged: the federal government and the world of private enterprise. During the 1920s, art and industry had enjoyed a rapprochement centered on ‘industrial design.’ This relationship was transformed in the 1930s by the arrival in America of the European avant-garde, which led to the development of not only an economic and institutional system for the promotion and legitimization of that alliance, but also a theoretical one.1 The advertising campaigns of the Container Corporation of America (CCA) that integrated business and culture, as well as the related efforts of CCA President Walter O. Paepcke (1896–1960), are important examples of the birth of a certain type of sponsorship of the arts. This sponsorship, in turn, was linked to new marketing techniques that emerged between the wars and was based on promoting the alliance between advertising and (specifically European) modern art.

2Aren’t the appropriation and alteration of the very nature of the avant-garde that took place in the United States at this time evidence of its subjugation to the needs of American capitalism? Without wishing to pass judgment on the moral legitimacy of this development, I will seek to point out the symptoms and contradictions to which it gave rise, while also highlighting the strategic role of photography in the development of this new American avant-garde – that of so-called ‘advertising art.’

Avant-Garde, Modernity and Social Engagement

  • 2 See Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture (epigraph note), 26–27, and Elizabeth H. Paepc (...)

3The son of German immigrants, Walter Paepcke studied economics and history at Yale University in the 1910s, and in 1919 he joined the company of his father, Hermann Paepcke, who was then president of the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, one of the leading American companies in its industry. Walter Paepcke was introduced to German intellectual culture at a very young age, and he went on to enjoy a close relationship with the professors of the University of Chicago, especially William A. Nitze, the chairman of the Department of Romance Languages, whose daughter Elizabeth would later become his wife. After the death of his father in 1921, Walter Paepcke took over the family business, and in 1926 he founded the Container Corporation of America (CCA). While the company quickly established itself as one of the most successful firms of its time, it was nonetheless affected by the crisis of 1929. Heeding the advice of his wife, Elizabeth Paepcke, who was a great lover of European modern art and an avid reader of publications such as Graphis and Gebrauchsgraphik,2 Paepcke realized that if his company were to survive the economic crisis, it would have to develop innovative marketing techniques and create an effective brand image.

  • 3 The first to be hired was Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, who was well known in the United States at the (...)
  • 4 Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 11.
  • 5 Among the first to receive commissions were Jean Carlu (France), Leo Lionni (Italy), Herbert Bayer (...)

4In 1935, Paepcke hired Egbert Jacobson as the firm’s art director. President of the Art Directors Club of Chicago and previously art director for the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson and N.W. Ayer, Jacobson was charged with completely rethinking the company’s image. He called upon Charles T. Coiner, who was then art director for the agency N.W. Ayer & Sons, to help him search for the artists whom the CCA would subsequently employ. This decision turned out to be a defining one, since Coiner was extremely well acquainted with the innovations of the European avant-garde and, in particular, the art of the advertising poster.3 While most American companies had already been hiring artists to design their advertisements for quite some time, most of those artists were minor ones. Their work was traditional and relied on a direct semantic correspondence between the advertisement and the product being advertised.4 Where the CCA’s first advertising campaigns represented a radical departure was in the decision to hire prominent avant-garde artists, almost all of them European,5 who revolutionized traditional advertising techniques, a transformation exemplified by the work of Herbert Bayer in America.

  • 6 Egbert Jacobson, foreword to Modern Art in Advertising: An Exhibition of Designs for Container Corp (...)

5An advertisement’s effectiveness was no longer required to lie in the correspondence between the image and the product but in the expression of a sensibility; the customer was no longer asked to identify with the product itself but with the ‘modern’ spirit projected by the company. The CCA’s art department gave almost total freedom to the artists and showed great flexibility with regard to the style, medium, and point of view adopted. As Jacobson observed: ‘We do not think of ourselves as patrons of art. The fact is that patronage is the last thing in the world desired by artists of real caliber. As it is our business to produce containers, it is the artists’ business to express ideas graphically and artfully. We engaged those who we thought would do this best, gave each a general idea and left him alone to develop a suitable personal statement of it.’6

  • 7 Ibid.

6Coiner had a predilection for aesthetic experimentation and reserved a substantial number of the company’s commissions for artists who employed photography and particularly photomontage. Jacobson noted: ‘The advertisements consist almost entirely of illustration, with a minimum of text. Because the artists were expert in creating images and symbols to tell a story, the campaigns have served our purpose admirably. Even when people disliked or did not at once understand the occasional strange and unexpected interpretations, real interest was aroused.’7

7Formally, this new advertising language was based on an aesthetic of experimentation that stood in the tradition of the innovations of the European avant-garde, but the purpose of that aesthetic was now to enhance the effectiveness of the advertising message.

  • 8 Indeed, advertisements and propaganda were often designed by the same artists; this was the case, f (...)
  • 9 Leo Lionni, interview by Martina R. Norelli, February 1, 1985, transcript prepared by NMAA, Washing (...)

8When the United States entered the war in December 1941, the orientation of the CCA’s advertising campaigns changed radically in response to the mobilization of American business on behalf of the war effort, a transformation that is apparent in the photomontages of most of the firm’s employees, including Herbert Matter and Leo Lionni. A fusion now took place between art, business, and propaganda. The CCA’s advertisements touted the virtues of its products together with slogans expressing support for the troops. This portion of the campaign was primarily based on the use of photographic images in combination with drawing and typography, and it bore a resemblance to the posters commissioned by U.S. government propaganda agencies such as the Office of War Information.8 Beyond the obvious commercial interest of the aesthetic revolution ushered in by these avant-garde artists, the position adopted by the CCA’s art department – that of ‘total freedom’ for the artist – was also a perfect expression of American ideology, much vaunted at the time in an effort to highlight the contrast between the United States and a Europe under the threat of fascism. Thus, if émigré European artists were ‘liberated’ by American industrialists, they also found their position as aesthetic innovators and social agents strategically reappropriated and harnessed to the project of creating an American avant-garde, which would henceforth be devoted to the promotion of so-called ‘advertising art.’ As Leo Lionni points out: ‘We were all involved in some kind of non-defined avant-garde in the graphic arts … We were always trying to push away from the commercial clichés of advertising and really invent something that was closer to what was happening in the arts.’9 This strategic shift in the very nature of the avant-garde was widely supported by museums, as evidenced by the exhibition Modern Art in Advertising (1945), which was initially mounted at the Art Institute of Chicago at the invitation of its director, Daniel Catton Rich.

Exhibiting Advertising Art in the Museum

  • 10 Compare with, especially, the exhibition The Advance Guard of Advertising Artists, Chicago, Katheri (...)
  • 11 Bayer was hired by the CCA not only as an advertising artist but subsequently as a consultant desig (...)

9In 1945, ten years after the launching of the CCA’s new advertising campaigns under the direction of Egbert Jacobson, the company organized an exhibition called Modern Art in Advertising: An Exhibition of Designs for Container Corporation of America. While this exhibition was by no means the first of its generation to exhibit ‘advertising art,’10 it was certainly one of the most significant, in view of the scale of the resources mobilized to bring it to the public’s attention (a catalogue was published, and the exhibition traveled to a substantial number of high-profile sites). Designed by Herbert Bayer at Walter Paepcke’s request,11 it opened at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago and then traveled on to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Dayton Art Institute, the Milwaukee Art Institute, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

  • 12 Carl O. Schniewind in Modern Art in Advertising: An Exhibition of Designs for Container Corporation (...)
  • 13 For more on this subject, see Julie Jones’s study of the catalogue essays in her article ‘Un art pu (...)

10The status of this exhibition was ambiguous: it was not a retrospective but presented – and hence promoted – a movement that was then underway, since the CCA’s advertising campaigns were in full swing at the time. In the words of Carl O. Schniewind, curator of the Prints and Drawings Department of the Art Institute of Chicago, ‘the real purpose of the exhibition’ was ‘to give the artist who entertains prejudices against doing commercial work material for thought’ and to encourage businessmen and art directors to adopt ‘a more liberal, more imaginative and less dogmatic stand toward the artist.’ A position of this kind would permit the latter to express his or her talent, while also sparking the development of ‘wholly unexpected potentialities in salesmanship.’12 While the museum’s interest in advertising art was instrumental in providing the latter with institutional legitimacy, it was also a sign of the museum’s own participation in government propaganda and the war effort, as well as in the effort to promote an avant-garde that was free, popular, and specifically American, as evidenced by the articles in the catalogue.13

  • 14 Dorner, The Way Beyond Art (note 13), 180.

11In 1947, Alexander Dorner asserted that in his view only two of the artists whose work was on display at the exhibition had truly succeeded in combining art with business – Herbert Matter and Herbert Bayer. According to Dorner, these two artists, both of whom used the technique of photomontage, were the only ones whose advertisements could be understood without the aid of the text. Bayer – according to the author – remained grounded in reality and utilized signs and symbols that were common, universal, and intelligible to all; thus, his work succeeded as an act of social engagement. For these same reasons, Dorner was highly critical of the advertisements of Ben Shahn and Henry Moore, ‘expressionists’ who offered visions of reality distorted by the expression of an ‘autonomous personality.’ The artist Richard Lindner, for his part, ‘pushes personal self expression to such a point that there is a complete, almost asocial disregard for the job, and thus a shocking discrepancy between the advertised goods and the design.’14

  • 15 See ibid. for more on this subject.
  • 16 Walter Paepcke, ‘Art in Industry,’ in Modern Art in Advertising, Carl O. Schniewind (note 12), 25.
  • 17 ‘Because we live in the 20th century, the student architect or designer should be offered no refuge (...)

12The article ‘Art in Industry,’ written by Paepcke and published in the exhibition catalogue, betrays the influence of the theories of László Moholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer. In it, Paepcke advocates the elimination of the split between art and industry – the thesis that was so dear to the Bauhaus masters – while also insisting on the urgent need to develop a systematic vision of the individual and his or her relationship with the world. In this way, he re-appropriates and reshapes – as a businessman – fundamental theoretical principles of the Bauhaus but also draws on principles developed in the United States by the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.15 He praises the happy unity of the artist and the artisan in the ‘Golden Age’ of ancient Greece, which allowed for the creation of products that were both functional and artistic. According to Paepcke, this unity was lost in the nineteenth century, the ‘Age of the Machine,’ which witnessed the rise of mass production and the specialization of labor. Today, he writes, this lost unity has been rediscovered thanks to the advent of advertising art. Paepcke once again embraces and champions the call for social engagement on the part of the artist – a necessary feature of any attempt to assert the avant-garde status of advertising art – and he does so on the basis of principles that were also those of the Bauhaus. Thus, in his view, ‘it should be made easy, remunerative, and agreeable for the artist to ‘function in society not as a decorator but as a vital participant.’16 Here Paepcke cites, without attribution, Alfred Barr’s preface to the book Bauhaus, published in 1938, in which Barr summarizes the founding principles of the German institution.17

  • 18 Walter Paepcke, ‘Art in Industry,’ (note 16), 24.
  • 19 This portion of Paepcke’s article refers to the advertising campaign United Nations Series (1944–19 (...)
  • 20 Walter Paepcke ‘Art in Industry,’ (note 16), 25.

13Paepcke goes on to develop a comparison between the artist and the businessman of today. ‘Each,’ he writes, ‘has within him the undying desire to create; to contribute something to the world, to leave his mark upon society; each has the necessity to earn and provide a living for himself and his family.’18 In this time of crisis, the engagement of the artist as well as that of the businessman must take the form of collaboration between them. After noting that there is currently an unfortunate imbalance in their relationship, Paepcke suggests that this situation could be improved by the development of advertising art, which would thus become the sought-for arena of a meeting and dialogue between the two. Paepcke carries his argument even further, asserting that in this time of crisis, the collaboration of the artist and the businessman could serve as an example for the nations of the world:19 ‘The artist and the businessman should cultivate every opportunity to teach and supplement one another, to cooperate with one another, just as the nations of the world must do. Only in such a fusion of talents, abilities, and philosophies can there be even a modest hope for the future, a partial alleviation of the chaos and misunderstandings of today, and a first small step toward a Golden Age of Tomorrow.’20

  • 21 Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 32.

14This call for the creation of a new, popular art form, a symbol of democracy that would be rooted in collaboration among all the various domains of contemporary life – in this case between the businessman and the artist – explicitly recalls the theories of Bayer and Moholy-Nagy. At the same time, however, it also clearly points to a specifically American effort to re-appropriate these theories, using them to legitimate the alliance of art and commerce in the United States. There is nothing surprising about this re-appropriation, since Moholy-Nagy had been a friend and close collaborator of Paepcke’s since the late 1930s. As Neil Harris writes: ‘Moholy-Nagy became Paepcke’s closest friend and the relationship had a lasting impact on Paepcke. The Bauhaus philosophy, stressing the education of the complete man and the interaction of design and function, found a receptive pupil in Walter Paepcke. His association with Moholy-Nagy served to expand his humanistic interests at a time when his pragmatic business acumen was already well developed.’21

Spreading Culture and Supporting Education?

  • 22 Mention should be made of the retrospective Modell Bauhaus at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin (Jul (...)
  • 23 For more on Walter Paepcke’s involvement and on the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago, see th (...)

15While the success of the Container Corporation of America is not unique in the history of the alliance of art and business during this period, the number and scale of the cultural projects undertaken by its president make it very much a case apart. Attracted by the humanistic character of Moholy-Nagy’s pedagogy, Walter Paepcke sincerely believed that the Bauhaus could be successfully transplanted to the United States.22 When the Association of Arts and Industries, which was behind the creation of the New Bauhaus, decided to close the school due to its lack of profitability, Paepcke emerged as the institution’s primary sponsor. In addition to his many donations, he was tireless in approaching big industrialists and members of the upper middle class of the Midwest in search of funding.23 Thanks to him, in 1942 the Rockefeller Foundation donated the sum of 7,500 dollars to subsidize the Light and Advertising Arts Workshop, the photography workshop led by György Kepes. It is also worth noting that the 1945 exhibition of the CCA’s advertisements, which helped to promote ‘advertising art,’ also played a role in the financial rescue plan for the School of Design.

  • 24 Ibid., 105.

16Paepcke’s commitment to the school was partially disinterested; he would never have involved himself directly in its pedagogical activities. At the same time, as A. Findeli notes, he could not ‘help but watch how Moholy-Nagy was managing his capital, staff, and facilities and attempting to make them profitable with the critical eye of the experienced company manager that he was.’24 While Paepcke was highly sympathetic to the fundamental precepts of Bauhaus pedagogy, he proved to be quite a bit less so where their implementation was concerned. In March 1944, the school changed its name to the Institute of Design, and Paepcke established a new board of directors to manage its financial affairs; it consisted almost exclusively of marketing professionals, with the sole exception of László Moholy-Nagy. There now followed numerous reworkings of the institution’s curriculum, which gradually led to the abandonment of the total, ‘integrated’ education of the student which was so dear to Moholy-Nagy, in favor of the teaching of specialized fields, an approach that was much easier to evaluate and, above all, more immediately profitable.

  • 25 Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 70.
  • 26 Great Books of the Western World (54 volumes), ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer J. Adler (C (...)

17After the death of Moholy-Nagy in 1946, Walter Paepcke approached Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer Adler of the University of Chicago, who quickly became his new allies in his effort to incorporate culture into the business world. In the early 1950s, the CCA launched a new advertising campaign, the Great Ideas of Western Man. This campaign had its origins in the membership of Walter Paepcke and his wife in the Great Books Club, which they joined in 1943. Created for Chicago businessmen, this club sought to adapt the principles of the humanities curriculum offered by Hutchins and Adler at the University of Chicago. This curriculum was ‘a course of general education based on the study of classic works of philosophy and literature,’25 which constituted the series of Great Books of the Western World.26

  • 27 For more on the selection of works and quotations, see Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epi (...)
  • 28 James Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture (epigraph note), 220. In note 45 on page 337 (...)

18Art director Egbert Jacobson then had the notion of identifying the company with the ideas developed in these works and proposed a new advertising campaign, the Great Ideas of Western Man. Paepcke hired Mortimer Adler to select quotations from his Syntopicon, an index of all the ideas addressed in the fifty-four works of the series of Great Books of the Western World. He then asked the advertising agency N.W. Ayer & Son to commission artists to illustrate those citations. A committee made up of representatives of the CCA, N. W. Ayer, Egbert Jacobson, Herbert Bayer, Charles Coiner, and Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke was then set up to finalize the selection. In keeping with the spirit of the CCA, the artists remained completely free in their choice of style, medium, and point of view.27 As James Sloan Allen notes, with this advertising campaign on the part of the CCA, ‘consumer capitalism now openly enlisted in its cause not only the once subversive modern artists but the entire Western intellectual tradition.’28

  • 29 The previous year, Paepcke had organized a festival in Aspen to commemorate the two-hundredth anniv (...)

19Paepcke’s relationship with Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer Adler not only gave rise to this advertising campaign; it was above all responsible for the creation of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in 1950, which was located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. In creating this nonprofit center for the cultural and intellectual education of business elites, Paepcke undertook what would be the final project in his attempt to integrate humanism and the business world.29 Attracted by the beauty of the spot and aware of the economic opportunities it presented, he had already begun to modernize and promote it a few years earlier, with Herbert Bayer, beginning in 1946, as one of the principal architects of the site.

  • 30 See James Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture (epigraph note), 272–76.

20From September 26 to October 6, 1951, Walter Paepcke organized the Aspen Photography Conference, which brought together some of the most important figures in the world of photography at the time in the United States, chosen by Ferenc Berko – the photographers Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Will Connell, Laura Gilpin, Fritz Kaeser II, Dorothea Lange, Wayne Miller, Eliot Porter, Frederick Sommer, and Minor White; but also John Morris, picture editor for Ladies’ Home Journal; Paul Vanderbilt, consultant in iconography at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC; and, finally, Beaumont Newhall, curator of the George Eastman House. The audience consisted of some forty participants, most of them amateur and professional photographers.30

  • 31 Beaumont Newhall, ‘The Aspen Photo Conference,’ Aperture 3, no. 3 (1955): 3–10. Originally written (...)
  • 32 Ibid., 3.
  • 33 Ibid., 5.
  • 34 Ibid.

21In 1955, Beaumont Newhall published an account of the conference in Aperture magazine.31 In his introduction to that account, he explains that ‘[l]ooking back … the value of the conference seems to lie in … the cross-fertilization of ideas and experiences that is engendered through the participants.’32 Newhall here repeats a term he had already used in his original report four years earlier: ‘Cross-fertilization is a term which Paepcke used frequently in telling of the aims and aspirations of the institute.’33 Although the connection isn’t emphasized by Newhall, the term ‘cross-fertilization’ again recalls the influence of the Bauhaus on the businessman and by extension on Newhall himself. As he explains, the conference participants set aside purely technical questions and the issue of the artistic value of the medium to reflect, instead, on its communicative potential: ‘It is significant that the word was used so frequently, for above everything else which was brought out at the conference, the desire to make pictures meaningful seems, in recollection, uppermost.’34

  • 35 Will Connell (1898–1961) was a self-taught American photographer who opened a studio in Los Angeles (...)
  • 36 Beaumont Newhall, ‘The Aspen Photo Conference’ (note 31), 7.
  • 37 Ibid.
  • 38 Ibid., 8.

22Various subjects were addressed at the individual sessions, including documentary photography, ‘straight photography,’ abstract photography, the current and future preservation of the photographic heritage, but also the working conditions of commercial photographers. The discussions of this latter issue were moderated by Will Connell.35 Newhall recalls that ‘the picture drawn of the present state of advertising photography … was a most pessimistic one. The photographer … is seldom given an opportunity to initiate creative work, but is required to follow explicitly a layout which has already been made … Photographs must be made to fit.’36 Egbert Jacobson, who participated in this discussion, described this system as ‘tyranny,’ adding that ‘the only way a creative photographer could use his full talents in advertising was to sell his work to the top executive of an industry.’37 For his part, John Morris explained that he often used public opinion polls to respond directly to the public’s expectations. This practice recommended by Morris ran counter in every respect to the CCA’s marketing strategies. In response, Walter Paepcke, who also took part in the debate, wondered ‘why the public could not be given what it should have rather than what it wants?’38

  • 39 In contrast to the International Design Conference, which was inaugurated that same year. See James (...)

23While the experiment of this conference was not to be repeated in Aspen,39 the discussions it sparked would later be a critical factor in the creation of the magazine Aperture, whose first issue was published in April 1952.

24Walter Paepcke’s numerous efforts to promote culture make him a key figure in the history of transatlantic relations as well as in that of the establishment of a professional practice of photography in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. A study of the activities of the CCA’s art department as well as of Paepcke’s sponsorship and support of the New Bauhaus/School of Design in Chicago helps to illuminate the process by which European art was formally reappropriated and theoretically adapted to create an avant-garde and a modernity that were specifically American and closely linked to the capitalist economy. An analysis of the shift that took place in the nature of European artists’ social engagement also sheds light on one of the most important aspects of the relations between photography and experimentation in the United States during this period.

25* Quoted in James Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture: Capitalism, Modernism and the Chicago-Aspen Crusade for Cultural Reform, rev. ed. (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2002, first published 1983 by University of Chicago Press), 74. This outstanding work is the most cogent and comprehensive study to date of Walter Paepcke’s role in the alliance of culture and business. See also the exhibition catalogue Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation: The Collection of Container Corporation of America, A Gift to the National Museum of American Art (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985). On the narrower subject of Paepcke’s relationship with the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago, see Alain Findeli, Le Bauhaus de Chicago. L’oeuvre pédagogique de Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (Sillery, Quebec: Septentrion; Paris: Klincksieck, 1995). The bulk of the archives of the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago is preserved at the University of Illinois at Chicago, while those of Walter Paepcke are held at the University of Chicago (Library Archives); the collection of the advertisements of the Container Corporation of America is preserved at the Smithsonian National Art Museum in Washington, DC.

Notes

1 For more on this subject, see the article by Neil Harris, ‘Designs on Demand,’ in the exhibition catalogue Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 8–30.

2 See Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture (epigraph note), 26–27, and Elizabeth H. Paepcke, interview by Martina R. Norelli, November 20, 1984, National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC, quoted in Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 132n1.

3 The first to be hired was Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, who was well known in the United States at the time for his recent advertisements in Harper’s Bazaar and also thanks to a 1936 retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; see Posters by Cassandre, MoMA exh. #45A, January 14–February 16, 1936.

4 Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 11.

5 Among the first to receive commissions were Jean Carlu (France), Leo Lionni (Italy), Herbert Bayer (Austria), Herbert Matter (Switzerland), György Kepes (Hungary), Man Ray (United States), Jean Hélion (France), Constantino Nivola (Italy), Miguel Covarrubias (Mexico), Matthew Leibowitz (United States), Richard Lindner (Germany), and Fernand Léger (France).

6 Egbert Jacobson, foreword to Modern Art in Advertising: An Exhibition of Designs for Container Corporation of America (Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1946), n.p.

7 Ibid.

8 Indeed, advertisements and propaganda were often designed by the same artists; this was the case, for example, for Herbert Matter and Leo Lionni. It is also worth noting that for émigré European artists, in particular, this kind of patriotic engagement was a prerequisite for obtaining, if not American citizenship, at least the right to reside in the United States.

9 Leo Lionni, interview by Martina R. Norelli, February 1, 1985, transcript prepared by NMAA, Washington, DC, quoted in Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 34.

10 Compare with, especially, the exhibition The Advance Guard of Advertising Artists, Chicago, Katherine Kuh Gallery, 1941, as well as the exhibitions on the art of the advertising poster and the relations of art and industry that were regularly organized at the Museum of Modern Art in New York beginning in 1933.

11 Bayer was hired by the CCA not only as an advertising artist but subsequently as a consultant designer (1945–56) and then as director of the corporation’s department of design (1956–65). Beginning in 1946, he also played a central role in the development of the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies in Colorado, which was founded by Walter Paepcke.

12 Carl O. Schniewind in Modern Art in Advertising: An Exhibition of Designs for Container Corporation of America (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1945), 3.

13 For more on this subject, see Julie Jones’s study of the catalogue essays in her article ‘Un art publicitaire? György Kepes au New Bauhaus 1937–1943,’ Études photographiques, no. 19 (December 2006): 50–52. The position of the Art Institute of Chicago corresponds in every respect to Alexander Dorner’s call for a transformation of the role of museums of contemporary art. See Alexander Dorner, The Way Beyond Art: The Work of Herbert Bayer (New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., 1947), especially 230–33.

14 Dorner, The Way Beyond Art (note 13), 180.

15 See ibid. for more on this subject.

16 Walter Paepcke, ‘Art in Industry,’ in Modern Art in Advertising, Carl O. Schniewind (note 12), 25.

17 ‘Because we live in the 20th century, the student architect or designer should be offered no refuge in the past but should be equipped for the modern world in its various aspects, artistic, technical, social, economic, spiritual, so that he may function in society not as a decorator but as a vital participant.’ Alfred Barr, preface to Bauhaus 1919–1928, ed. Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1938), 8.

18 Walter Paepcke, ‘Art in Industry,’ (note 16), 24.

19 This portion of Paepcke’s article refers to the advertising campaign United Nations Series (1944–1946). For this series as well as the following one (United States Series, 1946–1949), the CCA turned almost exclusively to painters and sculptors who broke with the medium and style of the corporation’s advertising campaigns of the war years, artists such as Henry Moore, Fernand Léger, and Willem De Kooning.

20 Walter Paepcke ‘Art in Industry,’ (note 16), 25.

21 Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 32.

22 Mention should be made of the retrospective Modell Bauhaus at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin (July 22–October 4, 2009). This exhibition, which is jointly organized by the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum für Gestaltung, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, and Klassik Stiftung Weimar, will also be presented in a reduced version at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (November 8, 2009–January 25, 2010). Directed by Glenn Lowry and curated by Barry Bergdoll (Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design) and Leah Dickerman (Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture), this American version will focus on the relationship between MoMA and the Bauhaus.

23 For more on Walter Paepcke’s involvement and on the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago, see the chapter ‘La fin du rêve et le début de la croisade’ in Findeli, Le Bauhaus de Chicago (epigraph note), especially 86–131.

24 Ibid., 105.

25 Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 70.

26 Great Books of the Western World (54 volumes), ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer J. Adler (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952).

27 For more on the selection of works and quotations, see Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation (epigraph note), 70–72. Herbert Bayer, Joseph Cornell, William Baziotes, Wynn Bullock, György Kepes, and René Magritte were among the artists commissioned to produce designs in the 1950s.

28 James Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture (epigraph note), 220. In note 45 on page 337 of this book, Sloan Allen refers to Hugh Kenner’s article, ‘Please Welcome My Next Idea,’ Harper’s, December 1982, p. 60, which contains a harsh critique of Mortimer Adler and the advertising campaigns of the CCA.

29 The previous year, Paepcke had organized a festival in Aspen to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, bringing together such distinguished intellectuals and artists as Albert Schweitzer, José Ortega y Gasset, Thornton Wilder, and Arthur Rubinstein.

30 See James Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture (epigraph note), 272–76.

31 Beaumont Newhall, ‘The Aspen Photo Conference,’ Aperture 3, no. 3 (1955): 3–10. Originally written in October 1951, the account was reprinted in the magazine in its entirety. (Courtesy of Modern Photography).

32 Ibid., 3.

33 Ibid., 5.

34 Ibid.

35 Will Connell (1898–1961) was a self-taught American photographer who opened a studio in Los Angeles, California, in 1925. He was a member of the Camera Pictorialists and taught at the Art Center College in Pasadena from 1931 until the end of his life. He published images and articles in Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and U.S. Camera, and was the author of three collections of photographs: In Pictures (1931), The Missions of California (1941), and About Photography (1949).

36 Beaumont Newhall, ‘The Aspen Photo Conference’ (note 31), 7.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid., 8.

39 In contrast to the International Design Conference, which was inaugurated that same year. See James Sloan Allen, The Romance of Commerce and Culture (epigraph note), 277–87.

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Référence électronique

Julie Jones, « Putting the European Avant-garde to Work for Capitalism », Études photographiques, 24 | novembre 2009, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 20 mai 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudesphotographiques/3432. consulté le 13 décembre 2017.

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Julie Jones

Julie Jones is a teaching assistant at Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation on the relations between photography and experimentation in the United States between the late 1930s and the late 1950s.

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