Josef Albers (1888-1976)
Josef Albers (1888-1976)

Homage to the square

Josef Albers (1888-1976)
Homage to the square
signed with the artist's monogram and dated 'A62' (lower right )
oil on masonite
16 1/8 x 16 1/8in. (41 x 41cm.)
Painted in 1962
André Emmerich Gallery, New York.
Pace Wildenstein, New York.
Waddington Galleries, London.
Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 1 July 2008, lot 232.
Private Collection, Milan (acquired at the above sale).
Paris, Galerie Denise René, Homage to the Square, 1997.
Brussels, Galerie Xavier Hufkens, Josef Albers, 1999.
London, Waddington Galleries, Josef Albers: Small Paintings, 2004, no. 11 (illustrated in colour, p. 31).
Post lot text
This work will be included in the forthcoming Josef Albers Catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Anni and Josef Albers Foundation and is registered as no. 1976.1.290.

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Alexandra Werner
Alexandra Werner

Lot Essay

‘Color is the means of my idiom. ... I’m not paying ‘homage to the square.’ It’s only the dish I serve my craziness about color in.’
–Josef Albers

In Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square, 1962, three concentric squares converge at a gradually descending gradient. They gravitate towards the bottom centre of the picture plane, drawing the eye to the middle square: the work’s centrifugal focal point. In grainy tones of teal, bottle green, and olive green respectively, the coloured squares resonate with one another, creating a reverberating play of discord and resolution which seems to pulsate, despite the static physicality of the work itself. The painting comes from Albers’ iconic series by the same name, which saw the artist produce hundreds of Homages to the square, no two identical, from 1950 until the artist’s death in 1976. Enraptured by the interaction of both complementary and clashing colours with one another, as well as by the psychological effect of such visual experiences on the viewer, Albers experimented by adjusting hue, tone, and intensity to explore optical effects. In these signature paintings, Albers employs a repeated leitmotif of three or four coloured squares on a similarly square slab of masonite, marking tribute to a life-long fascination with colour and its many mutable attributes. As the artist professed, ‘Color is the means of my idiom. ... I’m not paying ‘homage to the square.’ It’s only the dish I serve my craziness about color in’ (J. Albers, ‘Albers on Albers,’ Art News, 1966, p 48).
Albers’ Homages stand today among the twentieth century’s most important investigations into the properties of colour. His nested squares became a pictorial laboratory for his rigorous dissection of the chromatic spectrum. Each conveying a different set of tonalities, the paintings sought to scrutinize what Albers believed to be the most critical – and most widely misunderstood – of art’s formal mechanisms. Replacing the traditional medium of canvas for the rough side of masonite, Albers would frequently apply paint directly from the tube to provoke a sense of raw immediacy. His works address the ‘push and pull’ effect of various chromatic values when placed in close proximity to each other and indeed, in this present painting, the isolated colours seem to vibrate, fusing to create the appearance of new colours. Much like the lingering memory of music after the end of a song, the viewer is left with the residue of an after-image in their mind’s eye. Alluding to this phenomenon, Albers has explained, ‘We are able to hear a single tone. But we almost never (that is without special devices) see a single colour unconnected and unrelated to other colours. Colours present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbours and changing conditions’ (J. Albers, Interaction of Colour, New Haven 1971, p. 5).

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