Josef Albers - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Chicago, Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, Josef Albers, October - November 1959

  • Catalogue Essay

    Painted in 1954, Study to Homage to the Square – Looking Out is a sublime early example of Josef Albers’ technical mastery of color, form and material in his signature series Homage to the Square. Begun in 1950 and lasting over a quarter of a century, the Homage to the Square series constitutes the climax of his lifelong investigations into color theory. Albers painted these works daily, as a kind of spiritual exercise to cleanse his painting of everything accidental and impure, tirelessly pursuing total visual comprehension of opticality.

    Each Homage to the Square is subtly differentiated by its hierarchy of colors and particular application of paint, and Looking Outis centered around a small blue square, nested inside a warm gray and finally a rich grass green border. For Albers, the purpose of the integration of colors was to evoke different moods and visual effects through the contrasting combination of interlapping squares, each of which, he felt, was as different as an individual portrait. “For me, a triangle has a face. A square, a circle – any elemental form – has features and therefore a ‘look'. They act and provoke our reactions, just as complex forms, such as human or other faces and figures do,” Albers stated (Josef Albers, quoted in Elaine de Kooning, “Albers Paints a Picture”, ArtNews, vol. 49, no. 7, pt. 1, November 1950, p. 41). The title of each work is critical in summoning the “personality” associated with that work, since Albers titled his works according to the distinct process of making and the emotions he associated with them.

    The present work signals its meaning through color, texture and title: Looking Out suggests a window, a process of meditative observation of the world, which is reified by the appearance of the sky-colored square at the heart of the painting. The texture emerges through the even, almost opaque application of paint, evincing the materiality of the object as well as the depth of the pigment. Each element of the work is defined by Albers’ precise theoretical gaze, and as he wrote, “Each painting is an instrumentation in its own…Choices of the colors used, as well as their order, is aimed at an interaction – influencing and changing each other forth and back” (Josef Albers, quoted in Josef Albers: Homage to the Square, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1964, n.p.)

  • 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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Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection


Study to Homage to the Square - Looking Out

signed with the artist's monogram and dated "A 54" lower right; further signed, titled and dated "Study to Homage to the Square 'Looking Out', Albers 1954" on the reverse
oil on Masonite
18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm.)
Painted in 1954, this painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Josef Albers currently being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and is registered under no. JAAF 1954.1.6.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $275,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue