Herbert Matter: Modernist Photography and Graphic Design

The Stanford University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, is pleased to announce the exhibition Herbert Matter: Modernist Photography and Graphic Design. This exhibition celebrates the work of Herbert Matter (1907–1984), best known for his international contributions in photography, photomontage and graphic design. Herbert Matter: Modernist Photography and Graphic Design will be on view at Stanford University’s Cecil H. Green Library, Peterson Gallery, second floor of the Bing Wing from October 20, 2005 through February 11, 2006. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Herbert Matter studied with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne in Paris in the late 1920s before returning to Switzerland to design a series of Swiss travel posters which illustrate his signature photomontage technique. When he arrived in the United States in 1936 his first clients were the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the publisher Condé Nast. Other clients included the Guggenheim Museum (1958–1968), Knoll Furniture (1946–1966), and the New Haven Railroad (1954). During this time Matter became a tenured professor at Yale and helped to shape the university’s photography and graphic design program (1952–1976). Matter’s advanced techniques in graphic design and photography became part of a new visual narrative that began in the 1930s, which have since evolved into familiar design idioms such as overprinting—where an image extends beyond the frame—and the bold use of color, size, and placement in typography. Such techniques often characterize both pre-war European Modernism and the post-war expression of that movement in the United States. 

Matter’s lifelong interest in the work of sculptor Alberto Giacometti led to a compelling body of photographic work. The two artists met in 1960 when Matter began photographing the sculptor’s work leading to a twenty-year project that remained a personal and profound artistic endeavor for Matter. The extensive group of photographs of Giacometti’s work represents the largest series of work in the collection and includes different layouts, and iterations of photographs related to Matter’s book Alberto Giacometti, published posthumously by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in 1987. The exhibition aims to reflect Matter’s unique contributions to the field by balancing examples of his commercial graphic design work for magazines and businesses, with his innovative explorations in photography.

The Matter archive, acquired by the Stanford University Libraries in 2004, represents the largest collection of visual material by a single artist in the library. It includes a combination of thousands of fine art and commercial prints and photographs, negatives including glass plates, design process materials such as sketches, paste-up layout work, collages, exhibition materials, correspondence, and 16mm film. The Stanford University Libraries first acquired a collection of research materials from Matter’s estate that pertained to the R. Buckminster Fuller World Game—an archive of original graphic art, film, video and audio media; photographs; and correspondence. Roberto Trujillo, Frances & Charles Field Curator of Special Collections, subsequently learned that the entire Matter archive had become available and worked with various curators, faculty, and library administrators to acquire it. The collection is being processed and catalogued by Jeffrey Head, who is also curating the exhibition. Head, who has extensive knowledge of Matter’s work in the context of modern photography and design, writes about design for various publications internationally.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Stanford University Libraries announces the publication of the exhibition catalogue Herbert Matter: Modernist Photography and Graphic Design. The catalogue includes many reproductions, many of which are in color, along with photographs reproduced in duotone. It features an introductory essay by Jeffrey Head, and was designed by John T. Hill, a colleague and former student of Matter. The cost of the catalogue is $20.00, tax included, plus applicable shipping/handling charges. To order copies of the catalogue, please contact the Department of Special Collections, Green Library, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6004 or e-mail to speccollpubs@stanford.edu.

LOCATION: Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, Second Floor Stanford University, Stanford, CA

NOTE: first-time visitors must register at the east entrance portal to gain access to the library. Green Library's east wing entrance faces Meyer Library. For a map of campus and transportation information, go to http://www.stanford.edu/dept/visitorinfo/plan/maps.html.

HOURS: Exhibit cases are illuminated Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 1 to 6 pm. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For library hours, call 650-723-0931.

NOTE: Green Library will be closed December 11, 17–18, 24–27 and 31