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A Man of Modernism: A Tribute to Anton Stankwoski at the Stuttgarter Staatsgalerie

He was a pioneer in graphic design and the invention of corporate identity. His motto, “find, simplify, humanize” left a deep mark on German design history. The Deutsche Bank logo that he designed in the seventies can be seen around the whole world. With the support of Deutsche Bank, the Stuttgarter Staatsgalerie is now showing “Stankovsky 06 – Aspects of the Complete Works,” the largest retrospective to date offering a comprehensive view of Anton Stankwoski’s life and work.

Anton Stankowski , Logo Deutschen Bank (Stankowski DB), 1973, © Stankowski-Stiftung Anton Stankowski, Die Fläche, 1979, Öil on canvas, © Stankowski-Stiftung

“The greatest degree of utility! Economy of material and energy through strict organization! (…) Develop things from their purpose and the material qualities of things. The materials that present themselves based on purpose provide a rich abundance of contrasting forces to affect the senses… what’s called for is to tame them into a harmonious unity.”

The design maxims that Anton Stankwoski formulated in the thirties in his laboratory-like design primer are as pragmatic as they are progressive; they were to leave their mark on 20th-century design history. His most famous design is probably the Deutsche Bank logo, which he created in the early seventies; today, it can be seen everywhere around the world – at the workplace, on buildings, in the net, in ads, and on letter paper. The combination of slash and square has long since become established as one of the foremost symbols of western capitalism and has made its creator world-famous. On the occasion of his 100th birthday, Deutsche Bank is sponsoring a comprehensive retrospective in the Stuttgarter Staatsgalerie that presents Stankwoski’s pioneering design work and the adventure he dedicated his life to – developing a principle for visualizing complex technical, scientific, and social conditions in a clear formal language.

Anton Stankowski, Cover for the magazine "Kochen", 1933-35, © Stankowski-Stiftung Anton Stankowski, Brochure for Sulzer-Lüftung, Winterthur, 1934, © Stankowski-Stiftung

The exhibition “Stankwoski 06 – Aspects of the Complete Works” was put together by 10 curators; it is structured into 12 thematic areas. With over 200 works – paintings, sketches, posters, original documents, and photographs never before shown – it is the most extensive inventory to date of a fascinating life work in which there was no separation between the fine and applied arts. In addition, artists and designers can be discovered whose biographies and work reflect the progressive art movements of an entire century.

When Stankwoski, who was born in 1906 in the Ruhr Valley, went to Switzerland following his education at the Folkwang School in Essen, the young commercial artist was already taking a considerable amount with him: “The Akzidenz Grotesque, which was holy for me, a graphic design and photography based on a clear concept, ideas for paintings that were influenced by Kasimir Malevich, El Lissitzky, Piet Mondrian, and Max Burchartz, the notion of simplification and objectification and a general knowledge of tendencies in art, an ignorance concerning traditional design attitudes and an obsession for searching, finding, and doing – this is what I brought with me to Zurich.” The exhibition in Stuttgart helps visitors to sense his adventurous mood at the time. Numerous examples from his design primer and the geometric compositions of his oil paintings show how strongly Stankwoski was influenced by the Constructivist art of the Russian avant-garde, in which the square took on a special role due to its exactitude, neutrality, and regularity.

Anton Stankowski, Geometrisch, 1928,

Yet while in the Suprematist art of Kasimir Malevich it served as a formula for the sum of pure sensation and a sign of a superior, all-encompassing spiritual principle, Stankwoski quickly found this original model to have spent its purpose, and tried to counter it with alternative functional formal models. In Zurich of the late twenties, he encountered an avant-garde involved in concepts of new design and concrete art. The highly active “Zurich Circle,” which included artists like Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse , discussed the ideas of the Bauhaus and the Dutch group “de Stijl” grouped around Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.

Anton Stankowski, Fünf in zwei geteilt, 1936, Tempera , © Stankowski-Stiftung

In the Stuttgart retrospective, the results of this creative encounter can be gleaned from countless examples. Already in Zurich, Stankwoski introduced the diagonal on posters and in ads and flyers in which typographies, collaged photography, and graphic elements covered the page. The modernity of his designs becomes clear not only in his dadaesque photomontages, such as the flyer for “Zurich Broken Coal,” but also in his photographic work of the time. Stankwoski experimented with various kinds of order, photographing everyday things from the simple tin can, pot, or bicycle to the latest technological inventions. His self-portrait from 1930 depicts a young man with a clear, cool gaze who was just as fascinated by snow lining telegraph wires as by the steel constructions of large construction sites or a limousine speeding by, which he captured in one of his most famous photographic works, “Time Protocol with Car” from 1931.

Anton Stankowski, Schlüssel 1929, Photography (Vintage),

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