Alexandre Wollner Obituary
Everyone has heard of Paul Rand and Otl Aicher. They were unquestionably outstanding designers. What is more, they remain in the collective memory because they created corporate designs for world-famous brands. One for IBM, the other for Lufthansa. Hardly anyone in Europe has heard of Alexandre Wollner, even though he was on a par with Rand and Aicher. He, however, worked exclusively for Brazilian companies which no one in Europe really knows. This is a common story about publicity in the world of design.
The Brazilian graphic designer Alexandre Wollner was born in São Paolo on 16 September, 1928 and died there on 4 May. He was 89. In South America, Wollner was one of the most influential representatives of modern graphic design from the 1960s to the 1980s. Trained at HfG Ulm and temporary assistant of Otl Aicher, he was the first to establish functional and aesthetic modern graphic design in Brazil. As a university teacher and active designer, Alexandre Wollner was an influential role model for several generations of South American designers, and everyone there knows who he is.
As a young art student, Wollner was influenced mainly by European Concrete artists. Free and applied work by Wollner was showcased at the First National Exhibition of Concrete Art, in São Paulo in 1956, and in Rio de Janeiro the following year.
Previously, in 1954, Alexandre Wollner was invited by Max Bill to Ulm as a scholarship holder, where he received a not entirely new, but nonetheless radical design education. “It was an explosion, my life changed completely, I became a different person” he was to say in an interview, half a century later.
On his return to Brazil in 1958, he took on a number of major corporate design assignments, including projects for the textile company Argos Industrial, the Sardinhas Coqueiro fish factory, the lift manufacturer Elevadores Atlas and furniture manufacturer Móveis UL (Unilabor). Wollner’s work was always directly related to the companies’ areas of activity or products. And they were free of any local complexion. What architecture called “International Style” at the time had its counterpart in these graphic works by Alexandre Wollner – works that in the following years he produced on a scale unlike any other graphic designer in the field. Wollner’s designs in no way followed a scheme or fixed framework, but were always highly original and independent. Yet there is no Wollner style: “Some say I work very geometrically, but I do not use geometry. I use ratios, proportions, and modulations.”
Wollner was involved in the creation and positioning of the Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial (ESDI), the College of Industrial Design in Rio de Janeiro. Together with Karl Heinz Bergmiller, he taught at the new university, bringing with him his experiences from his studies in Ulm. Richard Paul Lohse, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Hans Neuburg in Switzerland, Anton Stankowski and Otl Aicher in Germany, Willem Sandberg and Wim Crouwel in the Netherlands or Paul Rand in the USA all formed the personal and creative frame of reference for Wollner’s work. He had also established and cultivated personal contacts with many of these graphic designers.
His design attitude was one of a clear, ahistorical, rational as well as highly aesthetic character, oriented more towards the international than the national. As co-founder of the first Brazilian design bureau at the height of modernisation in international design and contemporary design education in Brazil, and as the originator of many communication systems in the Brazilian economy, Alexandre Wollner has a firm place in the history of design. In 2013, the Museum Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt held a comprehensive retrospective of Wollner’s work, and contributed to making this high-profile designer at least a little better known in Germany. Most recently, Wollner’s designs were shown in the exhibition “Logo. Die Kunst mit dem Zeichen” [Logo. The Art with the Sign] at the Museum für Konkrete Kunst in Ingolstadt. The accompanying catalogue with an interview with Wollner was published by Surface, Frankfurt/Main, and is available . “Collective well-being – that is the function of design” this was Alexandre Wollner’s credo.
Seine Gestaltungshaltung war eine klare, ahistorische, rationale wie auch höchst ästhetische Formgebung, die sich mehr am Internationalen als am Nationalen orientierte. Als Mitbegründer des ersten brasilianischen Designbüros auf Höhe der internationalen Gestaltungsmoderne sowie einer zeitgemäßen Designausbildung in Brasilien und als Urheber vieler Kommunikationssysteme der brasilianischen Wirtschaft hat Alexandre Wollner seinen festen Platz in der Designgeschichte.
Das Museum Angewandte Kunst hatte 2013 eine umfangreiche Retrospektive zu Alexandre Wollner in Frankfurt gezeigt und diesen hochkarätigen Gestalter auch in Deutschland zumindest ein wenig bekannt gemacht. Zuletzt waren 2017 Entwürfe Wollners in der Ausstellung „Logo – Die Kunst mit dem Zeichen“ im Museum für Konkrete Kunst Ingolstadt zu sehen. Der begleitende Katalog mit einem Interview Wollners ist im Verlag Surface, Frankfurt am Main, erschienen und hier erhältlich.
„Kollektives Wohlbefinden – das ist die Funktion von Design“, so lautete das Credo von Alexandre Wollner.