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Herbert Matter: Modernist Photography and Graphic Design A Stanford University Special Collections Exhibition

Herbert Matter

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Herbert Matter is best known for his international contributions in photography, photomontage and graphic design. His advanced techniques became part of the 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 typography, color, size and placement. These design elements often characterize both pre-war European Modernism and the post-war expression of that movement in the United States.

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.