SynopsisJosef Albers was a painter, poet, sculptor, art theorist, and an educator. Through his teachings he introduced a generation of American artists to the European modernist concepts of the Bauhaus. His experimentation with color interaction and geometric shapes transformed the modern art scene, offering an alternative to and inspiring movements such as , , and .
Early yearsJosef Albers was born March 19, 1888, in Bottrop, Germany. From 1905 to 1908, he studied to become a teacher in Buren and then taught in Westphalian primary schools from 1908 to 1913. After attending the Konigliche Kunstschule in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, he was certified to teach art. Albers studied lithography in Essen and attended the Academy in Munich. In 1920 Albers entered the Bauhaus, a school in Weimar that focused on the modern integration of architecture, fine art, and craft, at the age of thirty-two.
Albers initially concentrated his studies on glass painting at the Bauhaus. In 1922, as a Bauhausgeselle (journeyman), he was in charge of the Bauhaus glass workshop. In 1923, he began to teach the Vorkurs, a basic design course. When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, he became Bauhausmeister (professor) teaching alongside fellow-artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. In addition to working in glass and metal, he designed furniture and typography at the school.
Mature PeriodAfter the Nazis forced the Bauhaus to close in 1933, Albers and his wife moved to North Carolina where he served as head of the art department at Black Mountain College from 1933 until 1949.
Black Mountain College was a liberal arts college with a focus on the fine and decorative arts. It attracted artists from around the world through its reputation as a radical artistic community. Albers' experience in Germany with the Bauhaus, and their integration of architecture, fine art, and craft, influenced his teaching methods at Black Mountain College, and enlightened his students to the modern European artistic concepts.
While teaching some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century at Black Mountain College until 1949, Albers simultaneously continued to successfully develop his own art with more than twenty solo shows in American galleries, featuring his glass paintings from the Bauhaus period, as well as new graphic drawings and oil paintings.
In 1949, Albers left Black Mountain College, moving to Connecticut to serve as the chairman of the Design Department at Yale University from 1950 to 1958 where he taught Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse. While lecturing at Yale, Albers began his most famous body of work, the series Homage to the Square, an exercise on the optical effects of color within the confines of a uniform square shape.
After retiring from Yale in 1958 at the age of seventy, his former teacher and colleague, Walter Gropius, invited Albers to design a mural for the interior of the new Graduate Center at Harvard University. This led to other important mural commissions, including Two Portals (1961) at the Time and Life Building and Manhattan (1963) at the Pan Am Building, both in New York.
In addition to painting, printmaking, and executing murals and architectural commissions, Albers published poetry, articles, and books on art theory. His best-known book, published in 1963 was Interaction of Color, which presented his theory that colors were governed by an internal and deceptive logic.
Late years and deathAfter leaving Yale University in 1958, Albers continued to teach, giving guest lectures at colleges and universities throughout the country. An exhibition of Homage to the Square, organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, traveled from 1965 to 1967, to parts of South America, Mexico, and the United States. In 1971 Albers was the first living artist to be honored with a solo retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Albers would live and work in New Haven, Connecticut, alongside his wife and fellow-artist Anni Albers, until his death on March 25, 1976.
LegacyAs both artist and teacher, Josef Albers played a substantial role in the history of 20th-century art. His theories about art and color powerfully influenced a whole generation of American minimalists, creating a different way of perceiving art and, ultimately, life. He viewed art as process rather than a product with the ultimate goal being "to open eyes."
Below are Josef Albers's main influencers, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Years Worked: 1915 - 1976
Quotes"Art is revelation instead of information, expression instead of description, creation instead of imitation or repetition. Art is concerned with the HOW, not the WHAT; not with literal content, but with the performance of the factual content. The performance - how it is done - that is the content of art."
"Any ground subtracts its own hue from the colors which it carries and therefore influences."
"In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is - as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art."
"Instead of art I have taught philosophy. Though technique for me is a big word, I never have taught how to paint. All my doing was to make people to see."
"Simultaneous contrast is not just a curious optical phenomenon - it is the very heart of painting."
"Albers was a beautiful teacher and an impossible person ... what he taught had to do with the entire visual world ... I consider Albers the most important teacher I've ever had, and I'm sure he considered me one of his poorest students."
- Robert Rauschenberg
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
BiographyJosef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living
Josef Albers: To Open Eyes: The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale
Written by the artistFormulation: Articulation
Interaction of Color
Poems and Drawings
Despite Straight Lines
PaintingsJosef Albers: A Retrospective
The Prints of Josef Albers: A Catalogue Raisonne 1915-1976
Material Studies with Josef Albers, 1923-1933
Museum of Design, Bauhaus Archive
Interview with Josef Albers conducted by Sevim Fesci in New Haven, Connecticut
Archives of American Art
Websites about artist
Artist in Popular Culture
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Geometric abstraction refers to nonobjective art that is based on reductive and geometric principles. At its purest, it seeks to strip art down to its most fundamental shapes and lines. Artists in many different movements and time periods have worked in this mode.
|A tendency within Abstract Expressionism, distinct from gestural abstraction, color field painting was developed by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still in the late 1940s, and developed further by Helen Frankenthaler and others. It is characterized by large fields of color and an absence of any figurative motifs, and often expresses a yearning for transcendence and the infinite.
ArtStory: Color Field Painting Page
|Op art, short for Optical art, is a style of abstraction that relies on geometric shapes, lines, and color juxtapositions to create optical illusions. Emerging in the mid 1950s, along with Kinetic art, it generated an international following of artists seeking to create new and more interactive relationships with the viewer, and new, disorientating visual experiences.
ArtStory: Op Art Page
|Bauhaus is a style associated with the Bauhaus school, an extremely influential art and design school in Weimar Germany that emphasized functionality and efficiency of design. Its famous faculty - including Joseph Albers and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - generally rejected distinctions between the fine and applied arts, and encouraged major advances in industrial design.
ArtStory: Bauhaus Page
|Black Mountain College was an experimental school founded in the middle of the twentieth century on the principles of balancing academics, arts, and manual labor within a democratic, communal society to create "complete" people.
ArtStory: Black Mountain College Page
|Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop Art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
ArtStory: Robert Rauschenberg Page
|Cy Twombly is an American artist whose large-scale paintings incorporate writing, scrawls, and graffiti on their surfaces. He combines the gestural quality of Abstract Expressionism with a contemporary interest in language and registers of meaning.
ArtStory: Cy Twombly Page
|American artist Richard Anuszkiewicz developed the geometric investigations of his teacher Josef Albers in new directions. He was a primary leader of the Op Art movement.
|Eva Hesse was a major New York artist whose sculpture, assemblage, and installation brought issues of feminism and the body into Minimalism's formal vocabulary. She is heralded as one of the quintessential Post-Minimalist artists.
ArtStory: Eva Hesse Page
|John Chamberlain is best known for his sculptures made of crushed and twisted automobile parts, works that bring the formal qualities of Abstract Expressionist painting into three dimensions.
ArtStory: John Chamberlain Page
|German designer and textile artist Anni Albers was the wife of Josef Albers and an influential artist in her own right. Her work reflects the Bauhaus design ethos, where she studied before moving to the United States.
|Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a Dutch modern artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed "Neoplastic" painting.
ArtStory: Piet Mondrian Page
|Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was one of the founding fathers of architectural Modernism. Utilizing modern materials and mass production strategies, his buildings rejected surface ornament in favor of a sleek and imposing geometry.
|A member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, and later a teacher at the Bauhaus, Kandinsky is best known for his pioneering breakthrough into expressive abstraction in 1913. His work prefigures that of the American Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: Wassily Kandinsky Page
|Kazimir Malevich was a Russian modernist painter who founded Suprematism. His mature works feature simple squares, rectangles, and other geometric shapes on blank grounds.
ArtStory: Kazimir Malevich Page
|Swiss expressionist painter and color theorist Johannes Itten was an influential teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar Germany.
|The German architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus school of art and design in Weimar Germany. Along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, he is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture.
|The Swiss-born painter Paul Klee worked in a variety of styles, including expressionism, geometric abstraction, and collage. His most famous works have a mystical quality and make use of linear and pictorial symbols.
ArtStory: Paul Klee Page
|Suprematism, the invention of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, was one of the earliest and most radical developments in abstract art. Inspired by a desire to experiment with the language of abstract form, and to isolate art's barest essentials, its artists produced austere abstractions that seemed almost mystical. It was an important influence on Constructivism.
ArtStory: Suprematism Page
|Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde of the 20th century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and non-traditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism Page
|Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
ArtStory: Constructivism Page
|Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 20s and 30s. Many German Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
ArtStory: Expressionism Page
|British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art Page