New exhibition celebrates iconic graphic designer Otl Aicher's Isny: A town in black & white

in Inspiration / Graphic Design

Otl Aicher’s Isny is a new exhibition that celebrates the work of iconic 20th-century German graphic designer Otl Aicher, produced for the German town Isny im Allgäu. Forty years after it was created, the show and limited edition book revisit how Aicher took what was expected of a small tourist town in Southern Germany, and defied it with a kit of 120 pictograms – in a way that was miles ahead of its time. The collection of rare prints will be the most comprehensive collection of Aicher’s Isny work to be seen in the UK.

Aicher’s work, and that for Isny in particular, is characterised by a beguiling reductive simplicity — an economy of a line drawn with an often mischievous twist. Over the course of ten years, Aicher distilled images of town life — its church spires, grazing cows and the rolling foothills of the Alps – into to a series of square landscapes reminiscent of Polaroids, or even Instagram – everyday moments rendered entirely in black and white.

It’s a bold expression and an intensely memorable one, with the powerful quality of a graphic novel. Aicher created a world that can be ordered and reordered; a system that can tell the changing stories of a place panel by panel while remaining entirely recognisable and consistent.

Taking place at brand and design agency dn&co's gallery Ground Floor Space in Bermondsey as part of the London Design Festival in September. Its creative director Patrick Eley says: "Otl Aicher has long been a source of inspiration, so our trip through southern Germany to uncover his work for Isny was the epitome of a busman's holiday. The treasure trove of the archive at Ulm, the hospitality of Aicher’s son Florian at Rotis, and the sweet beauty of the town of Isny itself were stops along the way to a greater understanding of the man and his vision, which we bring to life in the book and the exhibition.

"Most cities have to make do with a characteristic building or two to represent them — St Paul’s Cathedral, the Empire State, the Eiffel Tower... Aicher gave Isny an entire landscape and the power to tell a far richer story about the place than just architecture alone. It’s an issue that is still resonant today. Much of our studio’s work concerns places and spaces and how to best represent them. Aicher’s forceful, uncompromising approach seems a world away from what we might create now, but the clarity of vision is exhilarating."

The Otl Aicher’s exhibition opens to the public on Friday 15 September as part of the London Design Festival. A limited edition book outlining the rise and fall and rise again for Isny’s iconography will accompany the exhibition and will be available to pre-order at dnco.com.

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