Josef Albers portrait

Josef Albers/ Josef Albers

Germany 1888 - 1976

Abstract Art, Modernism

albersfoundation.org

Josef Albers
Josef Albers
Male
Germany
1888

Josef Albers was a renowned German abstract painter and color theorist, one of the most prominent and influential pioneers of 20th-century modernism, who dedicated a great deal of his life to art – either teaching it or producing it. He is best known for his series of paintings titled Homage to the Square, where he praises the strict form and patterns, and the powerful nature of colors. He was one of the most important persons in laying the foundation of European Modernism, particularly those close to the Bauhaus. His extensive theoretical work that was based on contentions that color, rather than form, is the primary medium of pictorial language, directed development of modern art during the 1950’s and 1960’s in the United States.

A Developing Teacher and Bauhaus Years

Josef Albers was born in Bottrop, Germany, in 1888 to Roman Catholic parents. Albers started his highly successful career as an art teacher in 1908. Initially, he worked in Bottrop until 1913, when he moved to Berlin to study and further train as a teacher at Königliche Kunstschule for two years. A year later, he moved to Essen, and in 1918 he did his first commissioned work Rosa mystica ora pro nobis, which was a window of a church in Essen, made of stained-glass. The following year was the beginning of his development as an artist, as he moved to Munich to study at the Königliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Kunst. He there received his education and training from some of Germany’s most eminent painters and art theorists such as Franz Stuck and Max Doerner.

It could be said that the year of 1920 was Albers’ milestone, as he moved to Weimar to study at the Bauhaus, a renowned German art school. He took up a course of Johannes Itten, a Swiss expressionist painter. Despite having studied painting, he became a faculty member in 1922 as a stained glass maker. A year later, he was offered a position to teach a new preliminary course “Werklehre” by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus founder, and director. Since Albers had been raised by parents who had been working with handicrafts, and since he had the knowledge and skill needed, he was the perfect candidate for that position. The Bauhaus was moved to Dessau in 1925, and Albers moved with it, getting tenure there. Some of his many co-workers were world’s most renowned artists, such as Paul Klee (with whom he had worked for several years), Oskar Schlemmer and Wassily Kandinsky. One of his students was Anni Fleischmann, who would later become his wife. In this period, he still continued to work with stained glass and started designing furniture and objects of utility.

Moving to the United States

The rise of the Nazi regime in Germany resulted in the shut-down of the Bauhaus in 1933, and a majority of artists had fled, Albers included. He went to the US, where he was immediately given a job at Black Mountain College, a newly opened art school in North Carolina. He was the head of the painting program for 16 years when he resigned in 1949. Albers taught many students there, who would later prove to be hugely successful artists, like Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg. During the time he spent at Black Mountain, he made numerous woodcuts and leaf studies.

In 1950, Albers moved to Connecticut, where he started working at Yale University as the chairman of the Department of Design. For the next eight years, a number of highly acclaimed artists learned from Albers, such as Neil Welliver and Eva Hesse. It was in 1958 that Josef Albers decided to permanently retire from teaching. He did, however, remain a fellow at Yale, continuing to closely work and cooperate with them. In 1962, he was awarded a grant, provided by the Graham Foundation, for a lecture and an exhibit of his rich body of work. He also worked with King-lui Wu, an architect and a professor at Yale, helping him create designs for some of his projects. Around this time, he started working on his Structural Constellations, a series he was still developing at the time of his death. In 1973, Josef Albers became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Main Influences and Interaction of Color

Josef Albers belonged to the group of artists who created in geometric abstraction movement. The strict geometric form and patterns are clearly visible in his works. Albers brought several elements from both European and American art into his work. The influence of the Europe’s Constructivists and Bauhaus movements exists in his works – the energy and tension of colors, and the small scales – but he leaned heavily on the new American art of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Behind many of his works, a list of colors and varnishes can be found. Those were all the elements he used when creating, in an attempt to catalog and “record” them. The plays of color intensity and vibrancy of forms and patterns in Albers’ paintings have influenced a great number of artists. Painters who created hard-edge abstract art draw from the tension and sharpness of his colors and patterns. Albers is often cited as an artist who had contributed a lot to the development of several movements in art, such as Minimalist, Conceptual, and Op art.

Interaction of Color was Albers’ book about the color theory, published by Yale University Press in 1963, that was conceived as a handbook and a sort of guide for artists. This unique masterpiece soon became the most popular and influential book about the theory of colors – their intensity, temperature, and relative and delusive nature. In it, Albers theorizes that it is the inner logic that has control over colors. This was also the period when he designed a number of album covers for musicians like Terry Snyder and Enoch Light.

Homage to the Square and Structural Constellation

Homage to the Square is a notable series of hundreds of abstract paintings that Albers started creating around 1950. Albers greatly respected composition and with this series, he experimented with squares planted within one another, and the nature of their interactions. The paintings usually consist of three or four squares of different dimensions and formats painted using a palette knife on a piece of Masonite hardboard.
A few paintings from the series are estimated to be worth around half a million dollars, but some of them have surpassed their initial price estimate, reaching the exorbitant amount of over 1.5 million dollars. One such painting is Joy from 1964, sold at Sotheby’s auction in 2007.

Unlike Homage to the Square, Structural Constellation focuses on form, rather than color. It is a series of reliefs and engravings which Josef Albers began creating around the same time as Homage to the Square, and like the series of paintings had not stopped creating until his death. The main idea Albers explores is the visual uncertainty; he wants his viewers to “open their eyes”. Seemingly convoluted geometric shapes that appear to be impossible to exist in our three-dimensional realm, force us to catch the understanding of them.

Murals

Albers also created a number of murals, which adorn walls of building throughout cities in the US. Two Structural Constellations can be found in the lobby of the Corning Glass Building in New York City. Inspired by the series of the same name, the mural made of gold-leaf was designed in 1959. Albers continued doing commissioned murals in New York. The huge Two Portals is located in the lobby of the Time & Life Building, in Rockefeller Center. The white and brown glass lines, with two bronze centers, give off the impression of false depth. The MetLife Building (at the time known as Pan Am Building) was constructed by Walter Gropius, and he invited Albers to create a mural for it. Albers re-designed his City from 1929 (the construction he did at the Bauhaus) and gave it a new name: Manhattan. Unfortunately, the mural was relocated around 2000 due to the reconstruction of the building’s lobby. Other murals Josef did include Growth and Loggia Wall (both of which were painted in 1967 for the Rochester Institute of Technology), and Gemini (1972, located in Kansas City). Australia is another country where one of his murals is located: he made his Wrestling in 1976 in Sydney for Seidler’s Mutual Life Center upon his former student’s request.

Legacy and Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Josef Albers, together with his wife Anni, who was a textile artist, writer, and printmaker, established a non-profit organization in 1971. Initially, their mission was to promote and deepen the vision of art. Today, however, the organization is dedicated to promoting and perpetuating the couple’s legacy and artistic principles of their lives. The foundation supports the artists whose artistic expression was shaped by Anni and Josef by organizing and sponsoring exhibitions, promotions, and publications. It also has the biggest archive of the Albers’ works. They are based in Bethany in Connecticut, US. Several museums have held retrospective exhibitions of Albers’ work, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and in Paris at the Centre Pompidou. In 1983, a museum in Josef’s native town, Bottrop, was opened, dedicated to his life and work. For the greatest part of his life, Josef Albers lived and worked in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife, until his death in 1976. His art and theories were widely excepted and applied among the generations of artists and art schools that enabled basis for the development of non-objective art from Abstract Expressionism onwards. Transforming the art education and pedagogy by creating a non-dogmatic, un-hierarchical, scientific approach based on observation and experimentation, he invented the methods that became accepted part of the academic training of visual artists.

Featured image: Josef Albers portrait
All images copyright of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Group Exhibition of Gallery ArtistsPace Gallery - NYGroup
2016Beckmann, Picasso, Giacometti & moreKunstmuseum Liechtenstein, VaduzGroup
2016Um die Ecke denkenMuseum Haus Konstruktiv, ZurichGroup
2016Block PartsBarbara Krakow Gallery, BostonGroup
2016Josef Albers - Homage To The Square Galería Cayón, MadridSolo
2015Albers in CommandAce Hotel, Los AngelesSolo
2014Josef Albers: Medios Minimos–Efecto MaximoFundación Juan March, MadridSolo
2014Josef Albers: Black and WhiteWaddington Custot Galleries, LondonSolo
2014Homage to the Square: First–Last, 1950–1976Josef Albers Museum Quadrat, BottropSolo
2013Josef Albers: Sublime OpticsFondazione Stelline, MilanSolo
2012The Sacred Modernist: Josef Albers as a Catholic ArtistLewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork, IrelandSolo
2012Josef Albers: Paintings, Drawings, PrintsGalerie BerinsonSolo
2012Josef AlbersGalerie Denise René, ParisSolo
2011Josef Albers: Albers and SeidlerDominik Mersch Gallery, Waterloo, AustraliaSolo
2011Josef AlbersGalleria Civica di Modena, ModenaSolo
2011Josef Albers: Biconjugates, Kinetics, and VariantsWaddington Custot Galleries, LondonSolo
2010Josef Albers: Innovation and InspirationHirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.Solo
2010Painting on Paper: Josef Albers in AmericaStaatliche Graphische Sammlung MünchenSolo
2010Josef Albers: Minimal Means, Maximum EffectKaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, TaiwanSolo
2009Josef Albers: Homage to the SquareGalerie Boisséree, CologneSolo
2009Josef Albers: Cor e Luz. Homenagem ao QuadradoInstituto Tomie Ohtake, São PauloSolo
2009Josef Albers' Album Covers for Command RecordsMinus Space, BrooklynSolo
2009Josef Albers: PaintingsWaddington Galleries, LondonSolo
2008Josef Albers: Color GeniusJohn and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, FloridaSolo
2008Dan Flavin–Josef AlbersGering and López Gallery, New YorkDuo
2008Josef Albers: Vitraux, Dessins, Gravures, Typographies, MeublesMusée Matisse, FranceSolo
2007Josef Albers–Donald Judd: Form and ColorPaceWildenstein, New YorkDuo
2007Homenaje al Cuadrado: Josef AlbersCasa Luis Barragán, Mexico CitySolo
2007Josef Albers: Works on Paper and PaintingsWaddington Galleries, LondonSolo
2007Josef AlbersGalleria il Bulino, RomeSolo
2006A Way of Seeing: Josef Albers–Yuko ShiraishiLeonard Hutton Galleries, New YorkDuo
2006Josef Albers: Interaction of Color, Homage to the SquareGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneSolo
2006Albers and Moholy–Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New WorldTate ModernDuo
2006Anni y Josef Albers. Viajes por LatinoaméricaMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, MadridDuo
2006Josef Albers: The Power of ColorColumbus MuseumSolo
2005Josef Albers–Donald Judd: Structure and ColorBrooke Alexander EditionsDuo
2005Josef Albers: The Development of an Image. Studies and Prints from the Josef and Anni Albers FoundationAlan Cristea Gallery, LondonSolo
2004Josef Albers: Small PaintingsWaddington Galleries, LondonSolo
2004Josef AlbersBarbara Krakow Gallery, BostonSolo
2003The Prints of Josef AlbersHirschl and Adler GallerySolo
2002Methods of Josef Albers: Formulation–ArticulationNiigata City Art MuseumSolo
2002Josef AlbersMúzeum Milana Dobeša, BratislavaSolo
2001Josef Albers: Homage to the SquareGalleria Karsten GreveSolo
2001Josef Albers: Homage to the Square Paintings and Photographs (1928–1938)Waddington GalleriesSolo
2000Josef Albers: denn Kunst sieht uns anKunstmuseum BayreuthSolo
2000Josef Albers in Black and WhiteBoston University Art GallerySolo
1999Josef Albers: Prints 1916–1976Alan Cristea Gallery, LondonSolo
1999Josef AlbersGalerie Xavier Hufkens, BrusselsSolo
1998Josef und Anni Albers: Europa und AmerikaKunstmuseum BernDuo
1998Josef Albers: Werke auf PapierKunstmuseum Bonn, BonnSolo
1997Josef Albers: Homage to the SquareGalerie Denise René, ParisSolo
1996Josef Albers: Homages to the Square and Structural ConstellationsWaddington Galleries, LondonSolo
1996The Art of Structure: Josef Albers and the BauhausArt Capital International, New YorkSolo
1996Josef AlbersGalerie Karsten Greve, CologneSolo
1995Josef AlbersGalerie Nächst St. Stephan, ViennaSolo
1995Josef AlbersAndré Emmerich Gallery, New YorkSolo
1994Josef Albers: Glass, Color, and LightPeggy Guggenheim Collection, VeniceSolo
1993Josef Albers: The 48 x 48" Homage to the SquareSidney Janis Gallery, New YorkSolo
1992Prä–Kolumbanische Skulpturen aus der Sammlung Josef und Anni AlbersJosef Albers Museum, BottropDuo
1992Josef Albers: Homage to the Square, Variant, Structural Constellation, PrintGalerie Tokoro, TokyoSolo
1992Josef Albers: Homage to the SquareHochschule für angewandte Kunst in Wien, ViennaSolo
1991Josef AlbersChinati Foundation, Marfa, TexasSolo
1991Josef Albers: Works on PaperArt Services International, VirginiaSolo
1990Josef AlbersMenil Collection, HoustonSolo
1990Anni und Josef Albers: Eine RetrospektiveVilla StuckSolo
1989AlbersSidney Janis Gallery, New YorkSolo
1989Josef AlbersMayor Gallery, LondonSolo
1989Josef Albers: Formulation–ArticulationArte Struktura: Centro d'arte contemporanea, MilanSolo
1988Josef Albers: A RetrospectiveSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New YorkSolo
1988AlbersGallery Schlesinger–Boissanté, New YorkSolo
1988Josef AlbersEdward Totah GallerySolo
1987Josef Albers: Homage to the Square, Bilder aus dem NachlassGalerie Hans StrelowSolo
1986Josef Albers: Homage to the SquareSatani Gallery, TokyoSolo
1986AlbersSidney Janis GallerySolo
1985Josef Albers: An Exhibition of PaintingsMargo Leavin Gallery, Los AngelesSolo
1985Josef Albers: Homage to the Square. Works from the 50's, 60's, and 70'sGalerie Esperanza, MontrealSolo
1985Josef Albers, Hommage au carré: de la science à la magieGalerie H.E.C., École des Hautes Études Commerciales, MontrealSolo
1984Anni Albers / Josef AlbersGalerie Denise René, ParisDuo
1984Paintings by AlbersSidney Janis GallerySolo
1983Josef Albers: Graphics and PaintingsGoethe House, New YorkSolo
1981Josef Albers: His Art and His InfluenceMontclair Art MuseumSolo
1980Albers: A Collection of PaintingsGalerie ChristelSolo
1980Josef Albers: Werke aus dem Besitz der Stadt BottropModerne GalerieSolo
1980Josef Albers: Homenatge al quadrat i Interacció de colorEINA: Escola de Disseny i Art & l'Institut Alemany de Cultura, BarcelonaSolo
1979Josef Albers Showcase ExhibitionAldrich Museum of Contemporary ArtSolo
1979Josef AlbersGalerie SkulimaSolo
1978Paintings by Josef AlbersYale University Art GallerySolo
1976Josef Albers: Interaction of ColorStudio M: Galerie and AtelierSolo
1974Opera scelte di Josef AlbersStudio Bassi, MilanSolo
1974Josef Albers: Formulation, ArticulationGalerie Denise René, ParisSolo
1973AlbersGalerie Beyeler, BaselSolo
1973Albers in BottropRathaus der Stadt BottropSolo
1973Homage to Josef AlbersYork University Art Gallery, TorontoSolo
1972AlbersGoethe–Institut MünchenSolo
1972Josef AlbersStudio Bellini, MilanSolo
1971Opera di Josef AlbersGalleria Notizie, TurinSolo
1971Josef Albers at the Metropolitan Museum of ArtMetropolitan Museum of ArtSolo
1971Josef AlbersElisabeth Franck GallerySolo
1971Josef Albers: PaintingsLondon Arts Gallery, DetroitSolo
1971AlbersGalerija Suvremene Umetnosti, Zagreb, Yugoslavia (Croatia)Solo
1970Josef Albers: BilderHamburger KunsthalleSolo
1970Josef AlbersStädtische Kunsthalle, DüsseldorfSolo
1969Look at AlbersGalerie Thomas, MunichSolo
1969Albers in BottropCyriaskusschule, BottropSolo
1968Josef AlbersHarcus Krakow Gallery, BostonSolo
1968Josef Albers: Graphic TectonicGalerie der Spiegel, CologneSolo
1967AlbersGalerie WilbrandSolo
1967Homenaje a Josef Albers: Exposición de grabadosGaleria de Arte Mexicano, Mexico CitySolo
1967Josef AlbersWashington Western Association of Art Museums, SeattleSolo
1966Josef Albers: Interaction of ColorNew Haven Jewish Community CenterSolo
1965Josef Albers: The American YearsWashington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington D.C.Solo
1965Josef AlbersGalerie SchmelaSolo
1965Paintings by Josef AlbersContemporary Arts Center, CincinnatiSolo
1965The Art of Josef AlbersTrinity College: Austin Arts CenterSolo
1965Josef Albers: Homage to the SquareGalerie Gimpel and Hanover, ZurichSolo
1965Josef Albers: Graphic Tectonic and Other LithographsEditions Alecto, LondonSolo
1964An Exhibition of the Works of Josef AlbersSmith College Museum of ArtSolo
1964Albers: Homage to the Square. 40 New Paintings by Josef AlbersSidney Janis GallerySolo
1964Josef Albers: Homage to the SquareGalerie WezelSolo
1964Josef AlbersKunsthalle BernSolo
1963The Interaction of Color: A Presentation of Paintings and the Color Theory of Josef AlbersDallas Museum of Fine ArtsSolo
1963Interaction of Color: Josef AlbersCarpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard UniversitySolo
1963AlbersGalerie Hybler, CopenhagenSolo
1963Josef Albers: Recent Work at TamarindFerus Gallery, Los AngelesSolo
1963New Paintings by Josef AlbersSidney Janis GallerySolo
1962Paintings by Josef AlbersDuncan Phillips Gallery, Washington D.C.Solo
1962Josef Albers: Retrospective ExhibitionNorth Carolina Museum of ArtSolo
1962AlbersFairweather–Hardin GallerySolo
1962Josef Albers at the Pace GalleryThe Pace Gallery, BostonSolo
1961AlbersToninelli Arte Moderna, MilanSolo
1961AlbersGimpel Fils Gallery Ltd., LondonSolo
1961AlbersStedelijk Museum, AmsterdamSolo
1961Recent Paintings by Josef AlbersSidney Janis GallerySolo
1960Josef AlbersCleveland Institute of ArtSolo
1960AlbersFerus Gallery, Los AngelesSolo
1959Josef AlbersFairweather–Hardin GallerySolo
1959Inkless intaglios by Josef AlbersThe Contemporaries Gallery, New YorkSolo
1958Josef AlbersVerkehrsverein BottropSolo
1958Albers: 70th Anniversary ExhibitionSidney Janis Gallery, New YorkSolo
1957Josef AlbersKarl–Ernst–Osthaus–Museum, HagenSolo
1957Josef Albers: frühe Bilder aus den Zwanzigerjahren und neue ArbeitenStaatliche Werkkunstschule and Kunstsammlung KasselSolo
1957AlbersGalerie Denise René, ParisSolo
1957Josef AlbersMuseum der Stadt UlmSolo
1956Josef Albers: Paintings, Prints, ProjectsYale University Art GallerySolo
1955Acting ColorSidney Janis GallerySolo
1954Josef and Anni AlbersHonolulu Academy of ArtDuo
1953Paintings by Josef AlbersUniversity of RedlandsSolo
1953Josef and Anni Albers: Paintings, Tapestries and Woven TextilesWadsworth Atheneum, ConnecticutDuo
1952Josef Albers: WoodcutsPhiladelphia Art AllianceSolo
1952Albers: Homage to the Square and Transformations of a SchemeSidney Janis Gallery, New YorkSolo
1951Josef AlbersCircle Gallery, DetroitSolo
1950Prints by Josef AlbersSmithsonian Institution, Division of Graphic ArtsSolo
1950Paintings and Prints of Josef Albers: 1931–1948Allen R. Hite Art Institute, University of LouisvilleSolo
1950Graphic TectonicMunson–Williams–Proctor InstituteSolo
1949Josef Albers und Max BillGalerie Gerd Rosen, BerlinDuo
1949Josef AlbersCincinnati Art MuseumSolo
1949Albers: Paintings in Black, Grey, WhiteEgan GallerySolo
1948Josef Albers: PaintingsCranbrook AcademySolo
1948Josef Albers and Kenneth NackGallery Studio, ChicagoDuo
1947Contemporary Prints by Josef AlbersBlack Mountain CollegeSolo
1947Josef Albers: Oils and LithographsPat Wall GallerySolo
1947Twenty–five Paintings by Josef AlbersMemphis Academy of ArtsSolo
1946Josef Albers: Graphic WorksEgan GallerySolo
1946Paintings by Josef AlbersUniversity Gallery, University of MinnesotaSolo
1945Josef AlbersDrake University, Art Department GalleriesSolo
1944Josef AlbersBennington, Vermont, Bennington CollegeSolo
1943Paintings and Watercolors by Josef AlbersGreensboro, North Carolina, Women's CollegeSolo
1942Paintings by Josef AlbersUniversity Art MuseumSolo
1942Josef Albers: Graphic TectonicsHarvard University Graduate School of DesignSolo
1942An exhibition of Albers' printsGrace Horn GallerySolo
1942Paintings by Francesco de Coco and Josef AlbersMuseum of New MexicoDuo
1942 Abstractions by Josef AlbersBaltimore Museum of ArtSolo
1941Josef Albers: New PaintingsNierendorf GallerySolo
1941Abstract Paintings by Josef AlbersMuseum of Fine Arts SchoolSolo
1940Josef AlbersNewcomb College School of ArtSolo
1940Oils and Woodcuts by Josef AlbersSan Francisco Museum of ArtSolo
1939Prints and Watercolors by Josef AlbersPhiladelphia Art AllianceSolo
1939Josef AlbersHigh MuseumSolo
1938Josef AlbersMuseum of Fine ArtsSolo
1938Josef Albers: PrintsWeyhe GallerySolo
1937Josef AlbersLyman Allyn Art MuseumSolo
1937Albers and De MondaKatharine Kuh GalleryDuo
1936Josef AlbersNew Art Circle, J.B. NeumannSolo
1936Exhibition of Glass and Oils by Josef AlbersBlack Mountain CollegeSolo
1935Works by Josef AlbersAsheville Art Guild, USASolo
1934Werken van Prof. Jos. Albers, L.P. Jacobsen en Ch. MonetStudio 32Solo
1934Silographie recent di Josef Albers e Luigi VeronesiGalleria MilioneSolo
1932Josef Albers und Karl DietschmannVerein für Kunst und KunstgewerbeDuo
1932Josef Albers: GlasbilderBauhausSolo
1919Josef Albers GraphikwerkeGalerie GoltzSolo