Josef Albers, in front of one of his 'Homage to the Square' paintings
|Born||March 19, 1888|
Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany
|Died||March 25, 1976 (aged 88)|
New Haven, Connecticut
|Education||Königliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Kunst|
|Known for||Abstract painting, study of color|
Josef Albers (/
Life and work
Albers was born into a Roman Catholic family of craftsmen in Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany. He worked from 1908 to 1913 as a schoolteacher in his home town; he also trained as an art teacher at Königliche Kunstschule in Berlin, Germany, from 1913 to 1915. From 1916 to 1919 he began his work as a printmaker at the Kunstgewerbschule in Essen. In 1918 he received his first public commission, Rosa mystica ora pro nobis, a stained-glass window for a church in Essen. In 1919 he went to Munich, Germany, to study at the Königliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, where he was a pupil of Max Doerner and Franz Stuck.
Albers enrolled as a student in the preliminary course (Vorkurs) of Johannes Itten at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. Although Albers had studied painting, it was as a maker of stained glass that he joined the faculty of the Bauhaus in 1922, approaching his chosen medium as a component of architecture and as a stand-alone art form. The director and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, asked him in 1923 to teach in the preliminary course 'Werklehre' of the department of design to introduce newcomers to the principles of handicrafts, because Albers came from that background and had appropriate practice and knowledge.
In 1925, Albers was promoted to professor, the year the Bauhaus moved to Dessau. At this time, he married Anni Albers (née Fleischmann) who was a student there. His work in Dessau included designing furniture and working with glass. As a younger art teacher, he was teaching at the Bauhaus among artists who included Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. The so-called form master, Klee taught the formal aspects in the glass workshops where Albers was the crafts master; they cooperated for several years.
With the closure of the Bauhaus under Nazi pressure in 1933 the artists dispersed, most leaving the country. Albers emigrated to the United States. The architect Philip Johnson, then a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, arranged for Albers to be offered a job as head of a new art school, Black Mountain College, in North Carolina. In November 1933, he joined the faculty of the college where he was the head of the painting program until 1949.
At Black Mountain, his students included Ruth Asawa, Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Susan Weil. He also invited important American artists such as Willem de Kooning, to teach in the summer seminar. Weil remarked that, as a teacher, Albers was "his own academy". She said that Albers claimed that "when you're in school, you're not an artist, you're a student", although he was very supportive of self-expression when one became an artist and began on her or his journey. Albers produced many woodcuts and leaf studies at this time.
In 1950, Albers left Black Mountain to head the department of design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. While at Yale, Albers worked to expand the nascent graphic design program (then called "graphic arts"), hiring designers Alvin Eisenman, Herbert Matter, and Alvin Lustig. Albers worked at Yale until he retired from teaching in 1958. At Yale, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Eva Hesse, Neil Welliver, and Jane Davis Doggett were notable students.
In 1962, as a fellow at Yale, he received a grant from the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studies of Fine Arts for an exhibit and lecture on his work. Albers also collaborated with Yale professor and architect King-lui Wu in creating decorative designs for some of Wu's projects. Among these were distinctive geometric fireplaces for the Rouse (1954) and DuPont (1959) houses, the façade of Manuscript Society, one of Yale's secret senior groups (1962), and a design for the Mt. Bethel Baptist Church (1973). Also, at this time he worked on his structural constellation pieces.
In 1963, he published Interaction of Color which presented his theory that colors were governed by an internal and deceptive logic. The very rare first edition has a limited printing of only 2,000 copies and contained 150 silk screen plates. This work has been republished since and is now even available as a cell phone app. Also during this time, he created the abstract album covers of band leader Enoch Light's Command LP records. His album cover for Terry Snyder and the All Stars 1959 album, Persuasive Percussion, shows a tightly packed grid or lattice of small black disks from which a few wander up and out as if stray molecules of some light gas. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973. Albers continued to paint and write, staying in New Haven with his wife, textile artist, Anni Albers, until his death in 1976.
Homage to the Square
Accomplished as a designer, photographer, typographer, printmaker, and poet, Albers is best remembered for his work as an abstract painter and theorist. He favored a very disciplined approach to composition. Most famous of all are the hundreds of paintings and prints that make up the series, Homage to the Square. In this rigorous series, begun in 1949, Albers explored chromatic interactions with nested squares. Usually painting on Masonite, he used a palette knife with oil colors and often recorded the colors he used on the back of his works. Each painting consists of either three or four squares of solid planes of color nested within one another, in one of four different arrangements and in square formats ranging from 406×406 mm to 1.22×1.22 m.
In 1959, a gold-leaf mural by Albers, Two Structural Constellations was engraved in the lobby of the Corning Glass Building in Manhattan. For the entrance of the Time & Life Building lobby, he created Two Portals (1961), a 42-feet by 14-feet mural of alternating glass bands in white and brown that recede into two bronze centers to create an illusion of depth. In the 1960s Walter Gropius, who was designing the Pan Am Building with Emery Roth & Sons and Pietro Belluschi, commissioned Albers to make a mural. The artist reworked City, a sandblasted glass construction that he had designed in 1929 at the Bauhaus, and renamed it Manhattan. The giant abstract mural of black, white, and red strips arranged in interwoven columns stood 28-feet high and 55-feet wide and was installed in the lobby of the building; it was removed during a lobby redesign in c. 2000. Before his death in 1976 Albers left exact specifications of the work so it could easily be replicated. In 1967, his painted mural Growth (1965) as well as Loggia Wall (1965), a brick relief, were installed on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Other architectural works include Gemini (1972), a stainless steel relief for the Grand Avenue National Bank lobby in Kansas City, Missouri, and Reclining Figure (1972), a mosaic mural for the Celanese Building in Manhattan destroyed in 1980. At the invitation of a former student, the architect Harry Seidler, Albers designed the mural Wrestling (1976) for Seidler's Mutual Life Center in Sydney, Australia.
Style and influences
He was known to meticulously list the specific manufacturer's colours and varnishes he used on the back of his works, as if the colours were catalogued components of an optical experiment. His work represents a transition between traditional European art and the new American art. It incorporated European influences from the Constructivists and the Bauhaus movement, and its intensity and smallness of scale were typically European, but his influence fell heavily on American artists of the late 1950s and the 1960s. "Hard-edge" abstract painters drew on his use of patterns and intense colors, while Op artists and conceptual artists further explored his interest in perception.
In an article about the artist, published in 1950, Elaine de Kooning concluded that however impersonal his paintings might at first appear, not one of them "could have been painted by any one but Josef Albers himself." Although their relationship was often tense, and sometimes, even combative, Robert Rauschenberg later identified Albers as his most important teacher.
Quotes of the artist
- - "Every perception of colour is an illusion.. ..we do not see colors as they really are. In our perception they alter one another." [c. 1949, when Albers started his first 'Homage to the Square' paintings]
- - "THE ORIGIN OF ART: The discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect. THE CONTENT OF ART: Visual information of our reaction to life. THE MEASURE OF ART: The ratio of effort to effect. THE AIM OF ART: Revelation and evocation of vision." [1964, from his text 'Homage to the square']
- - "For me, abstraction is real, probably more real than nature. I'll go further and say that abstraction is nearer my heart. I prefer to see with closed eyes." 
- - "Art is not to be looked at. Art is looking at us.. .To be able to perceive it we need to be receptive. Therefore art is there where art meets us now. The content of art is visual formulation of our relation to life. The measure of art, the ratio of effort to effect, the aim of art revelation and evocation of vision. [1968, in 'Oral history interview with Josef Albers]
- - "I made true the first English sentence [Albers came from Germany] that I uttered (better stuttered) on our arrival at Black Mountain College in November 1933. When a student asked me what I was going to teach I said: 'to open eyes'. And this has become the motto of all my teaching." [1970, in 'A conversation with Josef Albers']
In 1936, Albers was given his first solo show in Manhattan at J. B. Neumann's New Art Circle. He participated in documenta I (1955) and documenta IV (1968) in Kassel. A major Albers exhibition, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, traveled in South America, Mexico, and the United States from 1965 to 1967. In 1971 he was the first living artist to be given a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. In 2010, a show of 80 oil works on paper, many never exhibited before, was mounted by the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, later travelling to other venues, including Centre Pompidou in Paris, and The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan. In 2014, an exhibition at the Elliott Museum in Stuart, FL called "Albers and Heirs" featured the work of Albers, Neil Welliver, and Jane Davis Doggett.
The Josef Albers papers, documents from 1929 to 1970, were donated by the artist to the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art in 1969 and 1970. In 1971 (nearly five years before his death), Albers founded the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a nonprofit organization he hoped would further "the revelation and evocation of vision through art." Today, this organization not only serves as the office for the estates of both Josef Albers and his wife Anni Albers, but also supports exhibitions and publications focused on the works of both Albers. The official foundation building is located in Bethany, Connecticut, and "includes a central research and archival storage center to accommodate the Foundation's art collections, library and archives, and offices, as well as residence studios for visiting artists."
The executive director of the foundation is Nicholas Fox Weber. Later the foundation was instrumental in having four fakes from Italy, represented as the work of Albers and on sale in auction houses and galleries in France and Germany, seized by the police.
In 1997, one year after the auction house, Sotheby's, had bought the Andre Emmerich Gallery, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, the main beneficiary of the estates of both artists, did not renew its three-year contract with the gallery. Currently, the foundation is represented by David Zwirner in New York, Waddington Custot Galleries in London, and the Alan Cristea Gallery in London, and now, a large part of his estate is held by the Josef Albers Museum in Bottrop, Germany, where he was born.
Joseph Albers' book "Interaction of Color" is widely influential but, according to Alan Lee, has not received close critical attention. Lee undertakes to refute Albers' general claims about colour experience (that colour deceives continually) and to show that Albers' system of perceptual education is fundamentally misleading (Albers 'places practice before theory'). Four topics in Albers' account of colour are examined critically: additive and subtractive colour mixture, the tonal relations of colours, the Weber-Fechner Law and simultaneous contrast. In each case Albers is shown to have made fundamental errors with serious consequences for his general claims about colour and his pedagogical method. It is suggested that Albers' belief in the importance of colour deception is related to a misconception about aesthetic appreciation (that it depends upon some kind of confusion about visual perception). It is suggested that the scientific colour hypothesis of Edwin H. Land should be considered in lieu of the concepts held by Albers. Finally, there are implications for a reassessment of Albers' artworks that might follow a loss of faith in his colour concepts that seem to have been their foundation.
Value on the art market
Several paintings in his series "Homage to the Square" have outsold their estimates. Homage to the Square: Joy (1964) sold for $1.5 million, nearly double its estimate, during a 2007 sale at Sotheby's. More recently, "Study for Homage to the Square,R-III E.B." also sold for around twice the estimated $545,000–$700,000, eventually reaching $1.22 million at auction.
- Architype Albers (large typeface based on Albers 1927–1931 experimentation with geometrically constructed stencil types for posters and signs)
Noted students of Albers
- Richard Anuszkiewicz (painter)
- Ruth Asawa (sculptor)
- John Day (painter)
- Norman Carlberg (sculptor)
- Robert Engman (sculptor)
- Erwin Hauer (sculptor)
- Gerald Garston (painter)
- Eva Hesse (sculptor)
- Victor Moscoso (graphic artist)
- Charles O. Perry (sculptor)
- Joseph Raffael (painter)
- Robert Rauschenberg (painter and sculptor)
- Harry Seidler (architect)
- Richard Serra (sculptor)
- Robert Slutzky (1929–2005) painter, teacher of painting and architecture, co-author, with Colin Rowe, of Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, Parts I and II
- Julian Stanczak (painter)
- Cora Kelley Ward (painter)
- Neil Welliver (painter)
- Jane Davis Doggett (graphic artist and designer of airport wayfinding signage systems)
- Varujan Boghosian (collage artist and sculptor)
- Irving Petlin (painter)
- Adolph Rosenblatt (painter and sculptor)
- A. B. Jackson (painter)
- "Josef Albers, Artist and Teacher, Dies". New York Times. 26 March 1976. p. 33. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- Roderick Conway Morris (October 21, 2011), Making of a Bauhaus Master New York Times.
- Josef Albers Archived 2013-11-04 at the Wayback Machine. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville.
- Holland Cotter (July 26, 2012), Harmony, Harder Than It Looks – ‘Josef Albers in America: Painting on Paper,’ at the Morgan New York Times.
- Pepe Carmel (June 25, 1995), A Modern Master of Bottles, Scraps and Squares New York Times.
- Robert Ayers (March 29, 2006). "Susan Weil". ARTINFO. Archived from the original on March 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
- Rob Roy Kelly (June 23, 1989). "Origins: Yale years". Retrieved 2010-02-09.
- "Josef Albers, Eva Hesse, and the Imperative of Teaching | Tate". www.tate.org.uk. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
- "Josef Albers and Heirs exhibit on view at The Elliott Museum in Florida". Retrieved April 7, 2014.
- "Elliott Museum presents 'Albers & Heirs: Josef Albers, Neil Welliver, and Jane Davis Doggett'". Martin County Times. Martincountytimes.com. 2013-11-09. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
- Masheck, Joseph (December 2009 – January 2010). "ALBERS' RECORD JACKETS: Doing an Artful Job". The Brooklyn Rail.
- "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- Josef Albers Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan
- David W. Dunlap (June 17, 2002), Press 'L' for Landmark; Time & Life Lobby, a 50's Gem, Awaits Recognition New York Times.
- Carol Vogel (July 9, 2001), A Familiar Mural Finds Itself Without a Wall New York Times.
- Josef Albers: February 28 — March 27, 2007 Waddington Custot Galleries, London.
- Piper, David. The Illustrated History of Art, ISBN 0-7537-0179-0, p469.
- Piper, David. The Illustrated History of Art, ISBN 0-7537-0179-0, p470.
- Christopher Knight (May 14, 2008), Robert Rauschenberg, 1925 – 2008: He led the way to Pop Art Los Angeles Times.
- Josef Albers Archived 2012-02-12 at the Wayback Machine. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
- J.B. Neumann Papers in The Museum of Modern Art Archives
- The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation website Archived July 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation: Mission Statement Archived July 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- "randomhouse.com". randomhouse.com. Retrieved 2014-05-02.
- Carol Vogel (October 3, 1997), Sotheby's Loses Albers Estate New York Times.
- David Zwirner (May 20, 2016) "The Josef And Anni Albers Foundation Is Now Exclusively Represented by David Zwirner." David Zwirner Gallery. (Retrieved 12-1-2016.)
- Josef Albers Archived 2012-06-23 at the Wayback Machine. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen.
- Lee, Alan. "A Critical Account of Some of Josef Albers' Concepts of Color." Leonardo (1981): 99–105.
- J.S. Marcus (December 18, 2010), Re-Examining a Famed Teacher Wall Street Journal.
- Albers, Josef (1975). Interaction of Color. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11595-6.
- Bucher, François (1977). Josef Albers: Despite Straight Lines: An Analysis of His Graphic Constructions. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
- Danilowitz, Brenda; Fred Horowitz (2006). Josef Albers: to Open Eyes : The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale. Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0-7148-4599-9.
- Diaz, Eva (2008). "The Ethics of Perception: Josef Albers in the United States". Volume XC Number 2 (June): The Art Bulletin.
- Harris, Mary Emma (1987). The Arts at Black Mountain College. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
- Weber, Nicholas Fox; Licht, Fred (1988). Josef Albers: A Retrospective (exh. cat.). New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications. ISBN 978-0-8109-1876-4.
- Weber, Nicholas Fox; Licht, Fred; Danilowitz, Brenda (1994). Josef Albers: Glass, Color, and Light (exh. cat., Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice). New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications. ISBN 978-0-8109-6864-6.
- Wurmfeld, Sanford; Rector, Neil K.; Ratliff, Floyd (August 1, 1996). Color Function Painting: The Art of Josef Albers, Julian Stanczak and Richard Anuszkiewicz. Contemporary Collections. ISBN 978-0-9720956-0-0.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Joseph Albers|
- The Josef & Anni Albers Foundation
- Art Signature Dictionary, examples of genuine signatures by Josef Albers
- Brooklyn Rail, record jackets
- Cooper Hewitt Museum Exhibition, 2004
- Josef Albers collection at the Israel Museum. Retrieved September 2016.
- Josef Albers Guggenheim Museum
- Josef Albers at the Museum of Modern Art
- Josef Albers, National Gallery of Australia, Kenneth Tyler Collection
- Pace Gallery
- Tate Modern Exhibition, London 2006
- "Bauhaus in Mexico", article about the Albers, their trips to Mexico, and the Guggenheim show in 2018. NYRB, February 25, 2018
- "Josef Albers Papers, 1933–1961", The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.
Archives of American Art collection:
- An Oral History interview with Josef Albers, 1968 June 22 – July 5
- Josef Albers letters to J. B. Neumann, 1934–1947
- A Finding Aid to the Josef Albers papers, 1929–1970 in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Works by Josef Albers