Josef Albers

HoToSquare_full1.jpg (23286 byte)

Study for Homage to the Square, Early Diary 1954, oil on masonite 15 by 15 in.
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Art Association Collection - Thomas C. Woods Memorial 1963. N-151
osef Albers was born in Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany. As a young man, he taught the primary grades in Bottrop; then, following study in Berlin, received certification to teach art. During this time Albers began to think of himself as an artist. In 1920, at age 32, he enrolled at the newly-formed, progressive Bauhaus school in Weimar. (The Bauhaus, a design workshop formed by architect Walter Gropius, was "dedicated to merging the traditionally separate disciplines of the fine and applied arts in an effort to improve the quality of modern life in all its aspects and, ideally, at every social level. At the Bauhaus, the design of a teapot was as important as the architecture of a building, and the craft of furniture making as serious an undertaking as mural painting."1) After finishing his studies there, Albers joined the faculty to teach the preliminary course on material and design. It was during his time with the Bauhaus that Albers came into his own as a creative talent. Eventually becoming Assistant Director and Director of the Furniture Workshop, he retained his position with the Bauhaus until it was forced to close, under Nazi pressure, in 1933.
In America, the organizers of Black Mountain College, a utopian experiment in education in the mountains of North Carolina, asked Philip Johnson, then director of the department of architecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to recommend an art teacher. He suggested Albers, who, though he did not speak a word of English and did not know where North Carolina was, accepted. (Albers's wife, Anni, thought perhaps North Carolina was in the Philippines.) According to Marcia J. Wade, "His [Albers's] influence at Black Mountain was seminal. He emerged there as one of America's most important and original teachers of art--a reputation solidified by the publication decades later of Interactions of Color, the definitive work on color theory."2 Albers remained at Black Mountain until 1950 when he became head of the Department of Design at Yale University School of Art. He remained there until 1958, when he assumed the position of Visiting Professor until 1960.
As a teacher, Albers influenced many younger American painters, among them Robert Rauschenberg and Neil Welliver, whose work has been included in past Sheldon Statewide exhibitions. Albers lived a highly disciplined life, always at work. He seldom socialized--much like a cloistered monk; he simply worked. In 1971 he was the first living artist ever to be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Albers died in 1976 at the age of 88.
Albers's earliest works were figurative drawings and paintings. His style became increasingly abstract at the Bauhaus where he began to explore abstraction and color, his primary lifelong preoccupations. He was fascinated by the ambiguities of visual and spatial perception. This preoccupation is central to his famous Homage to the Square series begun in the 1950s and continuing until his death. In this series, color assumes the main role of producing deceptive and unpredictable effects, causing multiple readings of the same hue depending on what colors surround it. Albers did not mix colors, putting the colors on the painting right out of the tube. He forced his viewers into a changing and dynamic relationship with his work, rather than accepting one visual truth.

1. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, "Artist's Profile: Josef Albers," Guggenheim Calendar of Events (March-April 1988).
2. Marcia J. Wade, "Homage to a Square Man," Horizon 31 (April 1988).

Other Sources:

Craven, Wayne. American Art. Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark, 1994.
Andre Emmerich Gallery, Josef Albers, April 27-June 2, 1995, exhibition catalogue. New York: Andre Emmerich Gallery, 1995.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Josef Albers at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, An Exhibition of His Paintings & Prints, exhibition catalogue. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971.
Spies, Werner. "Albers." New York: Abrams, n.d.

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