Walter Dexel

Walter Dexel was born in 1890 in Munich. After reading art history under Heinrich Wölfflin and Fritz Burger he attended the painting and drawing school of Prof. Herman Gröber as of 1912. In 1914 Dexel’s first individual exhibition is held in Galerie Dietzel in Munich. Following his doctorate and conclusion of his studies Walter Dexel is detailed to the War Archives in Jena. Here, initially in parallel, he takes over the honorary direction of the Kunstverein (art society). In this function Dexel manages to turn the Jena Kunstverein into one of the leading exhibition institutes of the times. At first Dexel shows work by the artists of the Blaue Reiter and Sturm movements, later the programme is oriented to representatives of new design: new German building art, new advertising, new ways of photography and new objectivity. He builds up close contact with the Bauhaus masters Walter Gropius, Paul Klee and Kandinsky. In 1927 he exhibits his work as painter in Lissitzky’s »Kabinett der Abstrakten« in Hanover. At this time Dexel works as freelance painter and commercial artist.

For the City of Jena he designs advertising lamps and light columns for publicity, which attract the attention of Ernst May. He appoints Dexel as consultant for advertising design at the Structural Engineering Office of the City of Frankfurt. During this period Dexel commutes between Jena in his function as Exhibition Director and Frankfurt as Advertising Designer until his appointment at the College of Applied Arts and Handicrafts in Magdeburg, from which he is dismissed in 1935 as »degenerate« artist. One year later he switches to the State College for Art Education in Berlin-Schöneberg. At this time Dexel founds his strict school of visual communication. He propagates modern typography, free from historicisms. Oriented to modern art, in particular futurism, Dadaism and constructivism, the modern sanserif typography becomes the quintessence of the new typography. Dexel joins the ring of »New advertising designers« founded by Kurt Schwitters and experiments with constructive graphics. Sometime around the year 1933 he gives up free painting. Between 1921 and 1965 Dexel published numerous writings including »Unbekanntes Handwerksgut« (Unknown Handicrafts – 1935) and »Deutsches Handwerksgut. Eine Kultur- und Formgeschichte des Haushaltsgerät« (German Handicrafts. A History of Culture and Form of Household Equipment – 1939), in which he attempts to argument against the only apparent inconspicuousness of basic items. In 1942 he accepted an appointment in Braunschweig to build up the »Historical Form Collection« at the Institute for Handicraft and Industrial Design. In the sixties Dexel once again takes up painting. He died in 1973 in Braunschweig.