Josef Albers - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Collection of Lee V. Eastman, New York
    Christie's, New York, Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session, November 09, 2005, lot 230
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Art in Embassies Mexico City, December 1967- August 1970
    New York, Gering & López Gallery, Dan Flavin / Josef Albers, May 4- June 14,2008

  • Catalogue Essay

    “If one says ‘red’ - the name of color - and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”
    JOSEF ALBERS, 1963

    In the space of twenty-six years, from 1950 until his death in 1976, Josef Albers created his best-known and most highly lauded body of work: Homage to the Square. Defying the prevailing sentiment of the time which emphasized the individual creative psyche of the artist and the unique qualities of a singular work of art, Albers steadfastly examined a reduced and elemental program in his art. A man who desired pure study, pure shapes, and pure experimentation in order to achieve unsurpassed subtlety in the interaction of color. His resulting body of work is significant, with many variations on his original tribute. As he progressed into later years of his series, his painting began to vibrate with an intensity that few artists have been able to achieve. Homage to the Square, Signal, 1966, gives us a privileged view of Albers’ nimble mind and exacting vision, where slight differences in the same hue provide a concentric framework for a gorgeous artistic achievement.

    Albers’ background as a designer brought him into the realm of glass design, cementing his fondness for geometric shapes in his own work. After feeing Germany in 1933, he took with him his Bauhaus ideals of craftsmanship and connectedness of all the arts, preferring instead to teach a new generation of students the precepts of graphic art and self-discipline. He soon began his Homage series, carefully alternating the specific hues and chromatic schemes examining provocative as well as soothing combinations. Albers’ precise variations were the result of trial and error, with many early works exhibiting more dissonance than a gestalt product. Drawing criticism for what many perceived to be an impersonal approach to the creation of his work, he soon found himself supported by many mainstays of the New York School.

    It was with the hard won experience of sixteen years into this series, that Albers executed Homage to the Square, Signal, 1966. As opposed to his early combinations of colors, which tended to be startling in their juxtaposition, here we find Albers testing the capability of our own powers of perception. The three squares radiate from the intense Cadmium Extra Scarlet heart of the painting through Cadmium Red Pale to Cadmium Scarlet . We can see the strokes of the palette knife (Albers’s trusted method of application) in its cutting precision upon the surface of the painting—itself a study in linearity. Though the observer might have to sharpen his focus considerably to discern the borders of the separate hues, this is exactly the method of observation that Albers had in mind: “He cared intensely about how things were done, and he cherished what could be seen and observed with the eyes, and then the ramifications. This is what his drawings were about: sharp, cogent observation, and then the effective rendition of what his eye had taken in so that a whole story can be grasped.”(N. Weber, “Josef Albers: Works on Paper and Paintings”, Josef Albers: Works on Paper and Paintings, London, 2007, p. 6) One of Albers’ great gifts for future generations was his encouragement for them to hone their senses of perceptions, thereby making them more sensitive to the subtleties of the universe.

    The visual energy on the canvas before us is a testament to Albers dual nature as an aesthetician and methodical experimentalist. His brilliance as a painter extended to both realms, and we are ultimately left with such masterworks as Homage to the Square, Signal, 1966; “The Homages shimmer in their clarity and richness, evincing the mysterious poetry that makes them such sacred icons that now rivet audiences all over the world and provide a bounty of inspiration that only grows with time.” (N. Weber, “Josef Albers: Works on Paper and Paintings”, Josef Albers: Works on Paper and Paintings, London, 2007, p. 7)

  • Artist Biography

    Josef Albers

    German-American • 1888 - 1976

    Josef Albers was a German-American artist and educator, best known for his series Homage to the Square. His rigid, geometric works focus on the interplay of color and shape, and Albers is considered one of the fathers of both Minimalism and Conceptual Art. 

    Albers was born in Bottrop, Germany, and relocated to Munich in 1919 to study at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts. Albers began his career as an educator at the famous Bauhaus in 1922, first as a stained glass instructor and then as a full professor in 1925. Working at the Bauhaus brought Albers into contact with many other famous artists of the period, including Kandinsky and Klee. When the Nazis forced the Bauhaus’ closure in 1933, Albers left Germany and settled permanently in the United States. 

    For ten years, Albers (and his wife, fellow artist Anni Albers) taught at Black Mountain College, a progressive school in North Carolina. Between his time there and later at Yale University, Albers taught a number of artists who would later become quite famous, including Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Eva Hesse, Ruth Asawa and Richard Anuszkiewicz.

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Study for Homage to the Square: Signal

oil on canvas on Masonite
32 x 32 in. (81.3 x 81.3 cm.)
Signed with monogram and dated “A 66” lower right; further signed, titled and dated “Study for Homage to the Square: ‘Signal’, Albers 1966” on the reverse.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
[email protected]
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 16 May 2013 7pm