Lars Müller remembers Karl Gerstner, an exceptionally gifted designer and a friend, who passed away January 1, 2017.
Gerstner’s work with the advertising agency GGK and for Swissair gained him a wide audience. But what stands out for us designers is his trailblazing work as a typographer and graphic designer in the 1950s. With form and content remarkable both for creativity and consistency, the designer from Basel outstripped many of his rigid Zurich peers and earned the respect of prominent colleagues such as Josef Müller-Brockmann, the doyen of Swiss graphic design.
The publications he created in a congenial partnership with Markus Kutter are today indispensable highlights in any design library. In his small booklet Kalte Kunst (Cold Art) in 1957, he engaged critically with Concrete Art and the further development of the serial principle pioneered by the Zurich artist Richard Paul Lohse. In 2007, I published a reprint of Gerstner’s legendary 1963 book Designing Programmes, revised and supplemented by Gerstner himself. We were unfortunately hindered from undertaking further joint projects by his increasing dementia.
As an artist, Karl Gerstner suffered a similar fate to many talented and successful graphic designers: the prominence of his applied art outshone his work in the fine arts. This is particularly unfortunate in his case, for his conceptions were singularly suited to building a bridge from Concrete Art to the digital world.
The Karl Gerstner Design Archive is part of the Prints and Drawings Department of the Swiss National Library. (lm)