1888–1976, Germany / United States
Josef Albers was a painter, sculptor, and architect best known for his series of painting called Homage to the Square as shown in the exhibition The Moment is Eternity – German Abstraction: Past & Present (QG GALLERY, September 2019). Considered as one of the precursors of major arts movements such as Minimalism, Conceptual, and Op art, he is also considered as one of the most influential art teacher of the 20th century.
Born in Bottrop (Germany), Josef Albers began studying art in Munich, and then at the Bauhaus in Weimar in the early 1920s. In 1923, he was asked to teach a glassmaking workshop at the Bauhaus, which combined principles of painting, craft, and design in leading avant-garde philosophies about art. In 1925, Albers moved with the Bauhaus to Dessau (Germany) and later to Berlin, teaching courses in glassmaking and furniture design.
Following the forced closure of the Bauhaus in 1933 due to the rise of Nazism, Albers immigrated to the United States, and became an American citizen in 1939 (after his first solo show in New York, at J.B. Neumann’s New Art Circle, in 1936). He taught at Black Mountain College and at Yale University, painting works such as his famous Homage to the Square series, which experimented with color theory and juxtaposed hues. He taught courses in design and color theory, and counted among his students such iconic artists as Eva Hesse, Cy Twombly, Richard Anuszkiewicz, and Robert Rauschenberg. For him, teaching was not a matter of imparting rules, styles, or techniques, but of leading student to a greater awareness, to “open their eyes”. He stated: “you can’t be an artist unless and until you’d mindfully explored the visual field through its key elements: line, shape, color and texture”.
In 1949, he began his iconic Homage to the Square series in which he 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. In 1963, Albers published The Interaction of Color about color theory, and his experiments with color and geometric abstractions led to further series.
Albers died in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1976. The same year, the Josef Albers Foundation was established. In 1983, a museum dedicated to his art opened in Bottrop, Germany. Retrospectives of Albers’s work have been held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York); Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris); Tate Modern; Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum (London), amongst others.