17 April 2018


Lothar Reher Obituary

Text: Jörg Stürzebecher

If it would not be grossly flippant (and he was certainly far from that), Lothar Reher might well be described as the existentialist of book design in the GDR.


After all, Reher was primarily known and admired for his Spektrum series, published from 1968 to 1993 by the now-defunct Volk und Welt publishing house, which, together with the Reclam’s Universal Library from the later years of the GDR, may well have had a greater international reach than any other paperback series from East Germany. Readers from West Germany found Spektrum’s design reminiscent of the work of Willy Fleckhaus for Edition Suhrkamp, and the East German series, which had a heavy emphasis on fiction, did in fact have certain parallels with those books in terms of content. In aesthetic terms, over his twenty-year career, Reher’s self-assured designs soon saw him surpass his West German counterparts, or at least draw level with them. The black Spektrum covers made these books among the most striking to be published in the GDR, and long afterwards. They featured photographs, double exposures, and emblematic montages of photographic and collage elements that emerged subtly from their dark backdrop, without having to shout their presence. On trips to the GDR, Western visitors were particularly taken with new trends from Central and Eastern Europe, while readers from the GDR were delighted when authors from the Western world, like Richard Brautigan and Elfriede Jelinek, were added to the Spektrum canon. I recall some former GDR citizens noticing this series in my flat after 1989, although they had never grappled with the work of Ota Pavel, Vladimir Tendryakov or Daniil Granin themselves.


Reher only received a rudimentary education, growing up as he did during the Second World War and the post-war period. His book designs and photography books contributed towards the general perception of non-socialist foreign countries – as countries like Sweden were known – in the GDR. For Volk und Welt he produced the kind of objectively modern design pioneered by Klaus Wittkugel, a former student of Max Burchartz. His work later gained renown through exhibitions in what is today the Federal Republic of Germany. Lothar Reher died on 6 April 2018 at the age of 85. He is yet to be recognised for his place among the great graphic artists of history.


Nº 283
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