1888 (Bottrop, Germany)
1976 (New Haven, Connecticut)
Connecticut/North Carolina / Germany
© 2001 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Often Known For
serial geometric, non objective painting
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is submitted by Cornelia Seckel, publisher, ART TIMES|
"Josef Albers at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum"
By RAYMOND J. STEINER
ART TIMES May 1988
DIVERSIFICATION is often the undoing of a minor talent, this
retrospective of Josef Albers at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
(March 25 thru May 29) shows how it can strengthen and eventually serve
to focus the mature vision of a master. The first major retrospective
of Albers's work, this exhibition of about 250 pieces (covering his
output from 1914 to 1976) allows for a long view of the man and his
oeuvre. What we get here is the complex and arduous struggle which
occupied Albers from roughly his 25th to his 60th year and which
culminated in the deceptive simplicity of his Homage to the Square, a
series of well over a thousand paintings executed during the final
twenty-five years of his life and which earned him the epithet, "the
A small poem that Albers wrote in his Poems and Drawings (Wittenborn, 1961), rather neatly sums up his philosophy:
that diamondsare precious
that rubieshave depth
but moreto see
that pebblesare miraculous.
quiet, self-effacing man, Albers had the self-discipline and
single-minded dedication to eschew the popular, the easy paths to fame
and success, and to follow his own lead. Ignoring the "diamonds" and
"rubies" already discovered by others and capitalized upon in the art
world, Albers sought the "pebbles," the often over-looked elemental
qualities of art that lent it its universality, its endurance.
Eventually, Albers would decide that it was color or, more properly
speaking, light that in the final analysis was the building block of
Born in 1888 in Bottrop, Germany, Josef Albers was most
proud of his inheritance of an appreciation for and fine sense of
craftsmanship derived from his father, a laborer in the Ruhr River
region, and his mother, the daughter of a line of blacksmiths.
Throughout his life, he never strayed far from the belief that, at
bottom, craft preceded "art." An early beginning in the usual academic
art schooling did not long hold Albers from going his own way. His
drawings of 1915-18, after his return from the Konigliche Kuntschule in
Berlin, show an early predilection for minimal statement. Technically
precise, they show a no-nonsense, spare rendition of the essential
elements of his subjects. Although detail would present no problem to
this most competent draftsman, he preferred to keep his work as simple
as possible. Throughout, it is difficult to "see" Albers in his work.
Thoroughly detached, he allowed for no interference of non-aesthetic
considerations to encumber his art.
Albers's affiliation with
the Bauhaus is a well documented period of his life; everyone knows
that he spent more time there than did anyone else (from 1920 to 1933).
From his beginning as a student (who almost was dropped because of his
refusal to study wall painting), through his being asked to set up a
new glass workshop (on the strength of his work with glass shards he
was gleaning from the town dump) and on through to his becoming a
master and assistant director, it is clear that the Bauhaus was as good
for Albers as he was for it. One can easily see that the Bauhaus's
famous dictum of "Less is More" was in complete harmony with Albers's
own bent. His influence on other artists both here, and later at the
Black Mountain college in North Carolina and, finally, at Yale, is also
well known. Albers brought to his teaching the same dedication that he
brought to his art; again, his sense of craft and technique served him
well in his methods of instruction. It was the Nazi closing of the
school in 1933 that led to Albers's emigration to the United States.
The exhibit well documents Albers's output over the years including
paintings, works on paper, glass assemblages and constructions,
furniture, photographs and photo-collages. If, as I have noted, there
is an amazing diversification in Albers's work, one can yet follow the
path of simplification he took. And, once he settled upon his study
with color, one can see the same single-minded diligence to craft that
would occupy and guide him until his death.
Although Albers did
not acknowledge any great debts to any of his contemporaries or for
that matter to any of his predecessors he did admit that it was Cézanne
who made the largest impact on his sensibilities. If we can see some
hint of this influence in some of his earlier work, it is undoubtedly
most seen in his grasp of Cézanne's innovations with color and his
pioneering efforts of using it to suggest depth.
It was the
series Homage to the Square that brought Josef Albers to wide public
attention and was, in fact, the core of his one-man retrospective at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1971. This, incidentally, was the
first such honor given to a living artist at that institution. It was
in this series that Albers brought the full powers of his study of
color (light) into sharp focus. The square form (called "platters" by
Albers) was chosen since it would offer the least interference with his
wish to "serve up" to the viewer's attention the interaction of color
combinations. It was also the Homage to the Square series which lay
at the heart of his course on color at Yale and which served as the
basis for his book, Interaction of Color, published in 1963.
electronic version of Interaction of Color, produced by Jerry Whitely
and Andrew Phelan for Pratt Institute can be seen in conjunction with
the exhibit. A full catalog, Josef Albers, has been co-published by
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. In addition
to a full chronology and catalog of the exhibition, the book contains
essays by Nicholas Fox Weber, Mary Emma Harris, Charles E. Rickart and
Neal Benezra. The show was mounted with the help of grants from the
BASF Corporation and the Federal Republic of Germany.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|A prolific 20th-century artist, known primarily for his "Homages to
Squares," Josef Albers was also a highly innovative teacher associated
with the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany; Black Mountain College in North
Carolina; and the Yale School of Fine Art in New Haven, Connecticut. |
he disavowed style category labels, he is credited with influencing the
movements of Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism. He was also
one of the first modern artists to investigate the psychological effect
of art on viewers, to challenge them to open their eyes, investigate
color and space, and to question the nature of perception.
Indicative of the impact of his work is the fact that he was the first
living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in
He was born to a family of craftsmen in Bottrop in the
Ruhr region of Germany and inherited a family tradition of careful,
exact workmanship. As a young man, he became inspired by the
works of Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, and other modernist artists, and
many of his paintings show the influence of Cubism. In 1915, he
married Anni Fleischmann, who became a noted weaver and his wife of
From 1913 to 1920, he studied art in Berlin and
in Munich, but his most significant education took place in Weimar,
Germany at the Bauhaus, an association of artists, craftsmen, and
architects committed to a creed of merging craft techniques with
creative aspects of fine art. As a student, he became renowned
for stained glass designs that he created from broken bottles and
fragments he found at the city dump. These "found object" designs show
his early predilection for optics.
Beginning in 1923, he became
a Bauhaus teacher and taught furniture design, drawing, and
calligraphy. He made the first bent laminated wood chair and
created some of the first stacking tables. His working philosophy
was to build carefully and meticulously with sturdy materials from a
base of simple, fundamental forms to increasingly complex shapes.
1933, Albers and his associates dissolved the Bauhaus because of Nazi
pressure against their creativity. He and his wife moved to
America, where he spent the next sixteen years in the area of
Asheville, North Carolina teaching at Black Mountain College, an
experimental school operating with the principle that fine art
integrated all learning.
In spite of the fact that he spoke no
English at first, he influenced many artists who later became well
known modernists such as Neil Welliver and Robert Rauschenberg.
From 1950 to 1958, Albers served as Chairman of the Department of
Design at Yale University where he produced hundreds of "homages to
As an art teacher in America, he espoused methods that
were both innovative and shocking because he eliminated copying from
nature and from the work of other artists. His goal was to create
an attunement or close investigative relationship between the artist
and his/her work and to exclude anything that might interfere with this
synchromy. To set the tone, he began his classes with kinetic exercises
whereby each student was asked to foreshadow with movement the designs
he or she intended to depict in their artwork.
For shapes in his
"Homages," he chose squares, mathematically related to each other in
size, superimposed upon one another because they are strictly human
inventions, perfect shapes that never occur in nature--thus assuring
its man-made quality.
The artist intended that the colors in his
"Homages" react with each other when processed by the human eye,
causing optical illusions because of the eye's ability to continually
change the colors in ways whereby the colors echo, support, and oppose
one another. He executed these paintings with a deliberate,
careful technique using a minimum of tools and paint because he was
committed to order and the utmost of economy in his work. He
hated chaos and was adamantly opposed to the freedoms of Abstract
When working, he applied one base or primary coat
to masonite, a ground he found most durable, and then squeezed unmixed
paints directly from the tubes and spread the paint evenly and as
thinly as possible with a palette knife.
It is suggested by some
art historians that because Albers spent so much of his early life
amidst the ravages of World War I and then the Nazi take over, that
imposing order on his artwork was a psychological reaction to all of
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
|Biography from Eric Firestone Gallery:|
|Josef Albers was a German artist, mathematician and educator whose
work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of some
of the most influential and far-reaching art education programs of the
Albers was born in Bottrop, Westphalia (Germany). He studied
art in Berlin, Essen, and Munich before enrolling as a student at the
Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. He began teaching in the preliminary
course of the Department of Design in 1922, and was promoted to
Professor in 1925, the year the Bauhaus moved to Dessau.
With the closure of the Bauhaus under Nazi pressure in 1933, Albers
emigrated to the United States and joined the faculty of Black Mountain
College, North Carolina, where he ran the painting program until
1949. At Black Mountain his students included Robert
Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Ray Jonson and Susan Weil.
In 1950 Albers left Black Mountain to head the Department of Design at
Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut until he retired from
teaching in 1958. In 1962, as a fellow at Yale he received a
grant from the Graham Foundation for an exhibit and lecture on his
work. At Yale, Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse were notable
students. 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).
In 1963 he published Interaction of Color, a book which
presented his theory that colors were governed by an internal and
deceptive logic. Also during this time, he created the abstract
album covers of band leader Enoch Light's Command LP records. Albers
continued to paint and write, staying in New Haven with his wife,
textile artist Anni Albers, until his death in 1976.
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 flat colored squares arranged concentrically on the
Albers' work represents a transition between traditional European
art and the new American art. His work incorporated European
influences from the constructivists and the Bauhaus movement, and its
intensity and smallness of scale was typically European. However,
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.
|Biography from GallArt.com:|
|Josef Albers (1888 - 1976), was a German artist and educator whose work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of some of the most influential and far-reaching art education programs of the 20th century.|
Born in Bottrop, Westphalia, on March 19, 1888, Albers studied art in Berlin, Essen, and Munich before enrolling as a student at the prestigious Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. He began teaching in the Department of Design in 1923, and was promoted to Professor in 1925, the year the Bauhaus moved to Dessau.
With the closure of the Bauhaus under Nazi pressure in 1933, Albers emigrated to the United States and joined the faculty of Black Mountain College, North Carolina, where he ran the painting program until 1949. From 1950 to 1958, Albers headed the Department of Design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Accomplished as a designer, photographer, typographer, printmaker and poet, Albers is best remembered for his work as an abstract painter. He favored a very disciplined approach to composition, and published several widely-read books and articles on the theory of form and color. Most famous of all are the dozens of paintings from his series "Homage to the Square," begun in 1949, in which Albers explored chromatic variations on a theme of flat colored squares arranged concentrically on the canvas.
Albers' theories on art and education were formative for the next generation of artists. His own paintings form the foundation of both hard-edge abstraction and Op art. After retiring from Yale, Albers continued to live and work in New Haven with his wife, textile artist Anni Albers, until his death on March 26, 1976. (Courtesy of BiographyBase.com)
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