Work of the Week – November 11, 2013
by Adrian Etheridge
Josef Albers (1888-1976) was a pioneer of twentieth century modernism as a color theorist, artist, and teacher. Born in Bottrop, Germany, Albers began his career as an elementary art teacher before entering the Bauhaus in 1920. During his time at the Bauhaus – literally “house of construction,” a famous craft and fine arts school in Germany known for its integration of the theory and application of craft, arts, and technology – Albers became the first student asked to join the faculty as a “master.” Following the Nazi’s closing of the school in 1933, Albers and his wife, Anni, emigrated to the US to design the curriculum for the newly-opened Black Mountain College. In 1971, Albers was the first living artist ever to be offered a solo retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He continued writing, painting, and printmaking until his death in 1976.
Albers is best known for his series Homage to the Square. This series, composed of more than a thousand paintings, drawings, prints, and tapestries, spans 25 years. As a very meticulous artist, Albers mathematically determined the spacial design for each square in each piece, then listed the manufacturer’s colors and varnishes on the back so that each cataloged piece became part of an optical experiment in color and spacial reasoning. To further focus his “experiment in color,” Albers limited himself to using only a square format, precise geometry, and solid colors. Albers did much of his work, like Formulation: Articulation Folio II, with colored paper prints, which show his trial and error process of exploring color relationships and visual phenomena. As limiting as this sounds, the artist was able to produce an incredible and seemingly endless variety of visual effects, as the sheer volume of his body of work suggests.
As a gift from the Josef and Anni Albers foundation, the Asheville Art Museum has acquired many remarkable Josef Albers works. The Museum’s Josef Albers: Experiments in Color exhibition is on view through Sunday, March 16, 2014.
Artwork above: Josef Albers, Formulation: Articulation Folio II, Folder 5, 1972, Serigraph print, 15 x 40 inches. Gift of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Black Mountain College Collection. 1997.01.05.65.