Critics’ Picks

Warja Lavater, Little Red Riding Hood (detail), 1965, gouache on paper.

Warja Lavater, Little Red Riding Hood (detail), 1965, gouache on paper.


Warja Lavater

Zentralbibliothek Zürich
Zähringerpl. 6, 8001
March 3–June 19, 2021

Among Swiss artist and illustrator Warja Lavater’s (1913–2007) most acclaimed innovations were what she called her “folded stories”: accordion-like leporellos that adapted familiar tales such as “Little Red Riding Hood” or the Helvetian legend “Wilhelm Tell.” The painter renarrated these stories pictographically, stripping the pages of the written word in favor of Bauhaus-infused abstract characters that tested the synergies of colors, shapes, and space.

Trained as a graphic designer, Lavatar famously contributed to the second edition of SAFFA, the groundbreaking 1958 exhibition on women’s work in the confederation, and her three-keyed corporate-logo design for UBS (then the Swiss Bank Corporation) is still used by the bank today. Lavater’s legacy, however, suffered from the conventional biases that affected many of her female contemporaries, and throughout her later career, her reception was overshadowed by that of her husband, artist Gottfried Honegger.

Now, more than a decade after her death, Zentralbibliothek Zürich presents Lavater’s first retrospective, “Sing-Song-Signs & Folded Stories.” The library setting is apt, given how pivotal the book format was to Lavater’s practice. Curated by scholar Carol Ribi, biographical information and interviews shed light on the artist’s social and professional scene, while excerpts from her sketchbooks flank some of her better-known works. As an additional quirk, local programmers have developed Lavater-inspired video games that can be played on the spot, complementing an already joyous oeuvre.