“Juxtaposing two colors puts me in a state of intense excitement” Josef Albers
An exhibition that began in Germany and worked its way around Europe has finally landed in the States at the Morgan Library & Museum. Josef Albers in America gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the work of this German-born artist, most famous for his studies of color and the series, Homage to the Square.
It’s interesting to see what came before that famous colored squares series; how much work went into choosing just the right pigments and color combinations. There are even notes carved into the paint and scribbled in the margins, notes like “Try Again.”
Walking into the gallery, you’re greeted by the most complicated works that become more and more simple as you move into the space. Eventually you’re left with just the square, and squares within squares, which became Albers’ signature format.
I found the opening pieces most interesting, as squares that play with perspective and color do more than just with color alone. His three “Studies for a Kinetic” placed side-by-side, give three different versions of the same lines becoming squares, each playing with the canvas space in its own way based on the angles and colors chosen. But it wasn’t perspective that most interested Albers, who once described the square as “the dish I serve my craziness about color in.”
Past the studies of his early Adobe series, Albers’ work starts to become unmistakable as you move into the “Studies for Homage to the Square” section that takes up the remainder of the exhibit. It begins in just black and white – you can almost see the wheels turn in Albers’ mind as you walk. First just black versus white and the different scales of grey that can be created in between, then black squares containing others of different shades, as a way of juxtaposing the color inside of itself. Then finally at the next wall, color! Color that traces the rainbow in squares: from yellow to orange to red, around to the greens, blues, and browns.
Each work is unique in its markings and color play; all are very clearly rough drafts of finished works that are housed as masterpieces in other museums. With some squares, he creates two colors from one by juxtaposing against dark and light so that the shade differs slightly to our eyes. “Four colors for the price of three,” remarked Isabelle Dervaux, the exhibit’s curator. Here, color is exploited and confined within squares, and yet somehow those same colors reach their potential, through combinations that could only have been created by an expert.
Josef Albers in America: Painting on Paper
Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue
Credits, from top:
1. Josef Albers
Color Study for White Line Square
oil on blotting paper with gouache, pencil and varnish The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, inv. no. 1976.2.22 29.53 x 29.66 cm
2. Josef Albers
Color Study for Homage to the Square
oil and graphite on blotting paper with varnish
The Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, inv. no. 9/433 30.5 x 30.5 cm
3. Gallery (Photo by Lindsey Davis)
4. Josef Albers
Study for Homage to the Square
oil on blotting paper
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, inv. no. 1976.2.71 33.5 x 30.3 cm
5. Josef Albers
Study for a Kinetic, ca. 1945
oil and graphite on blotting paper
The Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, inv. no. 9/415 48.5 x 61.1 cm
6. Josef Albers
Variant/ Adobe, 1947
oil on blotting paper
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, inv. no. 1976.2.111 48.3 x 60.9 cm