JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)

Homage to the Square

JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
Homage to the Square
incised with the artist's monogram and date 'A71' (lower right)
oil on Masonite
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany, Connecticut
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2015
C. Darwent, Josef Albers: Life and Work, New York and London, 2018, pp. 36 and 39, no. 11C (illustrated).
London, Hayward Gallery; Dublin, National Gallery of Modern Art; Coventry, Mead Gallery Arts Centre; Oxford, Museum of Modern Art; Norfolk Institute of Art, Norwich Gallery, Josef Albers, February-November 1994, p. 59, no. 49.
Château de Plieux, Josef Albers au Chateau de Plieux, July-September 1998, p. 48, no. 54.
Bottrop Museum, Josef Albers Museum Quadrat, Letze Bilder: Ad Reinhardt, September 2010-January 2011, p. 127, no. 127 (illustrated and illustrated in the frontispiece).
Paris, Galerie Denise René, Josef Albers, February-March 2012, no. 21 (illustrated).
Paris, Grand Palais, Un Siècle de Lumière et de Mouvement dans l'Art 1913-2013, April-July 2013, p. 211, no. 125 (illustrated).
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Josef Albers: Minimal Means, Maximum Effect, March-July 2014, p. 160, no. 109 (illustrated).
Høvikodden, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Josef Albers: no tricks, no twinkling of the eyes, September-December 2014, pp. 91 and 192 (illustrated).
Further details
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

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Lot Essay

It’s amazing that it so quietly produces such brilliance. Donald Judd (D. Judd, “Josef Albers” (1991), in F. Judd & C. Murray, eds., Donald Judd Writings, New York, 2016, p. 735).

Josef Albers’s Homage to the Square is one of the largest examples of the artist’s iconic series of paintings in which he investigated the very essence of art: color. The embodiment of his dynamic investigation into the relationship between shade and hue, as well as the ability for different color pairings to produce vastly different optical effects, the present work becomes the ultimate realization of his 1963 treatise Interaction of Colour, and as such is the ultimate distillation of his teachings and findings about one of painting’s most basic elements. The paintings that belong to Albers’s greatest series act as an artistic inquiry and experimental discourse that influenced generations of groundbreaking artists. Donald Judd, the leading proponent of Minimalism, remarked, “In Albers’s paintings, there is very much a simple, suitable, and natural wholeness to the arrangement of squares within squares, which is one of the best ideas in the world, one which provided enormous versatility and complexity. This arrangement is easily at one with color. It’s amazing that it so quietly produces such brilliance” (D. Judd, “Josef Albers” (1991), in F. Judd & C. Murray, eds., Donald Judd Writings, New York, 2016, p. 735).

A vibrant portal into the physical and emotive power of color, Homage to the Square is a fiery red composition that is constructed in four discrete parts. Albers created a focal square a little below the center and expanded outward with echoes of this simple shape. The present example shows ripples of darkening hues as one approaches the outer edge of the frame which elicits an optical illusion of depth from the flat panel. Out of all of his renditions, the red compositions held special interest for Albers. He noted, “If one says ‘Red’ (the name of a colour) and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different” (J. Albers, quoted in P. Sloane, The Visual Nature of Colour, New York 1989, p. 1). Working under the fluorescent lights of his studio, the artist’s practice revolved around a careful progression of not only colorful pairings, but also changes in size. The 40-inch version is one of the largest in Albers’s repertoire as he worked on the Homages from 1950 until his death in 1976. Anything under these dimensions was given the titular addendum of ‘study for’ which denoted the artist’s ongoing process. Only the size seen here and the extremely rare 48-inch variety were seen by Albers as representing a more finished inquiry.

Albers began teaching at the legendary Bauhaus in 1922 after only two years as a student. When the school was disbanded by the Nazis in 1933, Albers and his wife Anni immigrated to the United States where they were both enthusiastically employed by the experimental North Carolina campus known as Black Mountain College. There, Albers taught as the head of the painting program until 1949. His students included such luminaries as Ruth Asawa, Cy Twombly, and Robert Rauschenberg. The latter remarked, years later, “I’m still learning what he taught me, because what he taught had to do with the entire visual world … I consider Albers the most important teacher I’ve ever had” (R. Rauschenberg, quoted in M. E. Harris, The Arts at Black Mountain College, Cambridge, MA, 1987, p. 126). In 1950, Albers left the institution to take on the role of chairman of the Department of Design at Yale University. It was at this point that he began to investigate the intersection of painting and color in the format seen in his breakthrough Homage to the Square.

Generations of artists, from J. M. W. Turner to Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt have explored the power of color, but none achieved the intensity of Albers’s best works. At the core, Homage to the Square is about the transitory nature of light and color and their relationship to painting. Beginning with a square sheet of Masonite, Albers would use a palette knife to spread paint directly from the tube onto the textured support. The coarse surface drank in the medium and helped to create a richness that further enhanced the colors’ properties. “Some painters consider colour an accompaniment of, and therefore subordinate to, form or other pictorial content. [...]” Albers wrote, “Here colour becomes autonomic. My paintings are presentative in the latter direction. I am interested particularly in the psychic effect – aesthetic experience caused by the interaction of colours” (J. Albers, quoted in G. Hamilton, Josef Albers—Paintings, Prints, Projects, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1956, p. 36). Using a constant visual device and a deep knowledge of his subject, Albers highlighted the power pure color can possess and sparked the imaginations of the twentieth century’s greatest artists.

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