JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
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JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)

Homage to the Square: Between 2 Scarlets

JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
Homage to the Square: Between 2 Scarlets
signed with the artist's monogram and dated 'A62' (lower right); signed and dated 'Albers 1962', titled and inscribed with a handwritten description of media used ‘Homage to the Square: “Between 2 Scarlets”’ (on the reverse)
oil on masonite
40 x 40in. (101.2 x 101.2cm.)
Painted in 1962
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, Dallas.
Private Collection, New York.
Galerie Denise René Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Paintings by Josef Albers, 1970.
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, MAXImin: Maximum Minimization in Contemporary Art, 2008.
Berlin, Haus Huth, Minimalism Germany 1960s, 2012.
Brescia, Museo di Santa Giulia, From Albers To Warhol (To Now), 2013.
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Post lot text
The work is registered in the catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Josef Albers as 1962.1.6.

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Lot Essay

Painted in 1962—the year before Josef Albers published his now-legendary treatise Interaction of ColourHomage to the Square: Between 2 Scarlets is an outstanding large-scale work rendered in one of the artist’s most important hues. Held in the same collection since 1985, and widely exhibited throughout its lifetime, it belongs to the second largest size category employed throughout the series—40 by 40 inches. It is one of only seven red works completed on this scale, another of which is held in the Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop. Occupying his practice for over a quarter of a century, Albers’ Homages to the Square stand among the twentieth century’s most important investigations into the elusive properties of colour. His red paintings represent some of the finest expressions of his theories, with examples held in institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice and the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf. The colour’s mercurial qualities held particular fascination for the artist. ‘If one says “Red” … and there are 50 people listening,’ he explained, ‘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).

Pursued between 1950 and 1976, Albers’ Homages to the Square became a rich laboratory for his exploration of the chromatic spectrum. Through his series of nested squares, each conveying a different set of tonalities, he sought to understand the interactions between similar and contrasting hues. ‘We are able to hear a single tone,’ he explained. ‘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). Albers painted the Homages flat on a table, squeezing paint directly from the tube onto the rough side of a Masonite board and using a palette knife to spread his pigments. Despite corresponding to one of four designs, the results each told a unique story, giving rise to an extraordinary range of chromatic effects or ‘climates’. By the time of the present work, Albers had moved away from the rigid, distinct colour bands of his early Homages, creating a fluid sense of interaction between closely-related hues. As Charles Darwent writes, these works ‘take on a depth that comes from … colour itself’ (C. Darwent, Josef Albers: Life and Work, London 2018, p. 42).

Albers’ Homages to the Square formed part of a broader didactic mission, in which he sought to disseminate his findings to future generations of artists. Following his early career at the Bauhaus during the 1920s, he relocated to Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where his seminal course on colour had a significant impact upon young artists such as Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg. In 1950, Albers was appointed chairman of the Department of Design at Yale University, where he began the Homages in earnest. Interaction of Colour, published in 1963, marked the culmination of his investigations, delineating the properties of different tonalities through concepts such as temperature, vibration and transparency. Despite the scientific grounding of Albers’ mission, many saw the Homages as possessing deeply spiritual qualities, comparable to the emotive colour fields of contemporary artists such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. As Jean Arp once wrote, ‘They contain simple, great statements such as: I’m standing here. I’m resting here. I’m in the world and on earth. I’m in no hurry to move on. While Mark Rothko sought transcendence, Albers looked for fulfilment here on earth’ (H. Arp, quoted in W. Schmied, ‘Fifteen Notes on Josef Albers’, in Josef Albers, exh. cat., The Mayor Gallery, London, 1989, pp. 9-10).

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