Movement: Geometric Abstraction
Education: Konigliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, Munich
Josef Albers was a German-born sculptor, painter, teacher and art theorist whose belief that ideas and concepts could be expressed through simple geometric shapes and color assimilation transformed modern art and provided an approach other than Abstract Expressionism.
“Proto-Form (B),” 1938
“Study for Homage to the Square: Starblue,” 1958
“Homage to the Square: Decided,” 1960
“Homage to the Square: Joy,” 1964
“Homage to the Square,” 1965
“Homage to the Square: Distant Alarm,” 1966
“Study for Homage to the Square: Signal,” 1966
Born in March 1888 in Bottrop, Albers was the son of a handyman. As a child, he would watch his father paint the exterior façade of local houses, fascinated by the simple blocks of color that held within them, quite literally, the full spectrum of human emotion.
At 17, he moved to Buren to study Education, earning his qualifications as a teacher three years later. After five years of working at various primary schools in the district, he enrolled at Berlin’s Königliche Kunstschule with a focus on teaching art. Upon graduation, he began independent studies in lithography while attending classes at the Academy in Munich. Albers was decidedly a scholar, and he loved the process and structure of school. He was admitted to the Bauhaus in 1920, where he would remain till the Nazis forced it to close down in 1933.
The premiere school for modern thinkers, the Bauhaus provided a space for experimentation and integration, where fine art, architecture, and craft could inform and influence each other in a cohesive way. Initially, Albers focused on glass painting as his medium, approaching it both as an element of architecture and as a solo art form. He would often scour the garbage sites of Weimar in search of discarded material to use for glass sculptures, sandblasting the materials to create edifices and stained-glass windows for buildings. His interest in architecture also led him to design furniture and craft decorative pieces.
He began teaching at the Bauhaus in 1923, at first conducting a basic design course before becoming a full professor two years later, working alongside Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. During this time, he married one of his students, Anni Fleischmann. In 1933, the Bauhaus closed due to pressure from the Nazis to reform their practices.
Black Mountain College
In 1933, Albers and his wife immigrated to North Carolina in order to escape Nazi persecution. At the time, architect Philip Johnson was serving as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art and arranged for Albers to be offered a position at the new liberal arts school, the Black Mountain College.
Similar to the Bauhaus in its commitment to challenging the accepted conventions of the day, the Black Mountain College became famous for its avant-garde artistic community. His tenure at the Bauhaus had imparted a very European sense of integration between different disciplines — whether fine art or functional design — and Albers let that inform his methods of teaching a new generation of American artists, including Cy Twombly and Susan Weil.
His duties as a professor did not hinder his own studies in art and he produced a large number of woodcuts and graphic drawings during this time. He was a perpetual student, constantly experimenting with various materials and techniques. Through the 1940s, Albers had over 20 solo exhibitions in galleries across the United States.
The style for which he is best known evolved during his time as the chairman of Yale University’s design department, between 1950 and 1958. “Homage to the Square” was a series of hundreds of prints and paintings focused on the optical force of color within the limitations of a uniform shape. Each image featured a number of squares in solid color set against one another in various arrangements and layouts.
In addition to his independent studies, Albers also accepted a number of commissions for murals and published poetry and art theory. He continued teaching and delivering lectures at universities well into his sixties.
He lived in New Haven until his death in March 1976.
1888 - Born in Westphalia
1908 - Employed as a school teacher in Bottrop
1913 - Trains to be an art teacher at the Konigliche Kunstschule in Berlin
1918 - Commissioned to design a stained glass window in Essen
1919 - Moved to Munich to enroll at the Konigliche Bayerisch Akademie
1920 - Begins studying at the Bauhaus in Weimar
1922 - Joins its faculty as a stained glass designer
1925 - Appointed a full professor; marries Anni Fleischmann
1933 - Leaves for the United States under Nazi pressure; accepts a faculty position at the Black Mountain College
1950 - Teaches at Yale University
1958 - Retires from teaching
1963 - Publishes “Interaction of Color”
1973 - Appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1976 - Passes away in New Haven
2009 - Waddington Custot Galleries, London
2009 - Stadtisches Kunsthalle, Mannheim
2010 - Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
2010 - Peter Blum Gallery, New York
2011 - Galleria Civica di Modena
2011 - Kunstmuseum Basel
2012 - Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris
2012 - Galerie Keza, Paris
2013 - Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, Perugia
Museums / collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Dallas Museum of Art
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Tate Gallery, London
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Books / publications
“Interaction of Color” by Josef Albers
“Josef Albers: Art as Experience” by Nicholas Fox Weber
“Josef Albers: Minimal Means, Maximum Effect” by Nicholas Fox Weber and Jeannette Redensek
“Josef Albers: To Open Eyes” by Frederick A. Horrowitz and Brenda Danilowitz
“Intersecting Colors: Josef Albers and His Contemporaries” by Brenda Danilowitz and Sarah Lowengard