misattribution madness #2 – max bill

did the swiss designer max bill design this lamp?

did the swiss designer max bill design this lamp?

If you do a Google image search for “Max Bill lamp”, you will see a lot of pictures of a white torchiere floor lamp with a tulip shape like the one in the picture above. The same goes for a search on 1stdibs.com. A lot of the lamps like these will have a label that says “Made in Switzerland”, and some of the listings will say that the lamp was made by a company called BAG Turgi.

It makes sense that a classic, minimal modern lamp design made in Switzerland would be attributed to Max Bill, the highly influential Swiss sculptor, architect, writer and industrial designer. However, I’ve come across some period evidence that points to this lamp as not having been designed by Max Bill.

George Kovacs lamps in the "New Products" section of Progressive Architecture, Jan 1966

George Kovacs lamps in the “New Products” section of Progressive Architecture, Jan 1966

The clipping above is from the January 1966 issue of “Progressive Architecture” magazine and is a blurb in the “New Products” section that describes some of the imported lamps that were being marketed and sold at the time by George Kovacs, Inc., in New York. In the middle we see our lamp that has been attributed to Bill.

Two countries of origin for the lamps are mentioned, Austria and Switzerland, and the torchiere is described as Swiss. All of the Swiss lamps are credited as having been designed by a man named Ernst Luthiger.

Max Bill is by far the best known and most significant Swiss modernist designer and artist. He was born in 1909 and studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau in the late 1920’s. Although his focus during his long career was mainly on sculpture and printmaking as well as teaching and writing about modern design, he did important work as an architect and designed a number of significant industrial design pieces, including the flexible reading lamp (also known as a sun lamp) for Novelectric AG in Zurich in 1951, shown below.

max bill reading lamp = from "form" by max bill

max bill reading lamp – from the book “form” by max bill, 1952

Other well-known product designs by Bill are the Ulmer Hocker stool (designed with Hans Gugelot during Bill’s time teaching and working at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm) from 1954, and the Junghans clock from 1957.

Here’s another lamp by Bill, this one for BAG Turgi:

max bill BAG lamp from the book "form" by max bill

max bill BAG Turgi lamp from the book “form” by max bill

The Swiss company BAG Turgi produced consumer and industrial electrical products, and is still in existence. The company began in 1909 as Schweizerische Broncewarenfabrik AG. Turgi is the city in Switzerland where BAG was first located – the company is now known simply as BAG and is currently headquartered in Arnsberg, Germany, where it concentrates exclusively on industrial LED control modules.

 

"lamps from... george kovacs" catalog 1966kovacs catalog cover

george kovacs 1966 catalog swiss lamp

swiss lamp from the “lamps from… george kovacs” catalog, 1966

Here’s the lamp described and listed for sale in the “Lamps From… George Kovacs” catalog from 1966. This lamp may have been made by BAG Turgi, but so far I have only seen examples with a label that simply says “Made in Switzerland”.

In any case, I have done a fair amount of research over the last few months and have found no evidence of this lamp appearing or being mentioned in any books or magazine articles about Bill’s industrial design work. By the early 1950’s he looks to have been largely out of the industrial design game, and had settled into his role as teacher and rector at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm where he was able to continue his Bauhaus-inspired design teachings for a new generation of designers, including Dieter Rams. By the 1960’s and for the rest of his life he concentrated on his “fine” art work, which apparently was more important than industrial design to him.

It’s possible that the “New Products” blurb from Progressive Architecture in January 1966 got it wrong somehow and this lamp is actually by Max Bill, but I doubt it.

As for Ernst Luthiger, so far I have turned up no information at all about him.

[Sources:]

Byars, Mel. The Design Encyclopedia. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994

Bill, Max. Form: A Balance Sheet of Mid-Twentieth-Century Trends in Design. Basel: Karl Werner, AG, 1952

“Products.” Progressive Architecture January 1966: page 70.

 

This entry was posted in 60's, george kovacs, max bill, misattribution and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to misattribution madness #2 – max bill

  1. paul says:

    I totally agree that this tulip base floor lamp is not designed by max bill. The lamp is shown in several swiss books about swiss design and always identified as designed and made by BAG Turgi. (Erni -die gute Form)
    Max Bill has such a good reputation as an artist that he would be surely named if there would be any evidence or indication of his authorship.
    But not all of the Kovacs swiss imported lamps are made by the same company. The ball shaped glass on a chromed three legged stem is made by SLZ (Swiss lamp zürich) later called Swisslamps and designed in the late 50s by Alfred Hablützel. So Ernst Luthiger could be Designer of either one or both two remaining BAG Turgi lamps.
    Even more annoying is the result of the max bill lamp google search when showing a daily growing variety of also swiss made tulip based lamps with opalescent glass balls. These are in fact made by TEMDE AG
    And these lamps are designed in the early 60s by E. R. Nele (Eva Rene Nele Bode) a german sculptress still living today in Frankfurt/Main.

  2. Greg Greg says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for the great info!

    I agree, if a company was producing lamps by Max Bill in the 60’s they would certainly have been proud of the fact and would have announced it. I also am annoyed by the attribution to Bill of the opalescent glass ball lamps – they are nice but they really have nothing in common with his spare and clean style.

    Interesting about the SLZ lamp, great to know a designer on that one. I’m not surprised that the PA blurb lumped all the Swiss lamps together as the work of Ernst Luthiger; in fact one can trust these things only so far which is why I hesitated to use this blurb as definitive evidence of the lamp’s designer – still, it is safe to say the tulip lamp is not by Bill.

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