Josef Albers - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 15, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Ernst Beyeler Basel (acquired from the artist in April 1972)
    Galerie Melki, Paris (acquired in 1973)
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1973)
    Sotheby's, New York, November 9, 1982, lot 21B
    Private Collection
    Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York (acquired in 2016)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Northampton, Smith College Museum of Art, An Exhibition of the Works of Josef Albers, February 5 - 23, 1964

  • Catalogue Essay

    Josef Albers’ Study for Homage to the Square: Decided from 1957 is rendered in pure yellows with a central square of light slate gray. The colors vibrate and shimmer within the reductive stability of the picture’s basic geometry. The seeming logic of the painting belies the subtle visual tension where the differing hues meet and touch. The format of this series dates back to 1950, just after Albers left his recent teaching position at Black Mountain College. Having previously taught at the Bauhaus, his art was informed by a European design philosophy that favored simplistic, yet rigid and formal, artistic structures. From 1950 onward, Albers dedicated his artistic career to exploring the limitlessness combinations of color and form until his death in 1976.

    The format of the square composition came to define his most iconic series of paintings. Albers explained that this seemingly repetitive template allowed for his experiments with diverse color combinations and the subtle, shifting tonalities to be found within a single color. Simultaneously this unchanged format ensures that the geometric shapes would remain the stable variant. “Color,” as Albers states, “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, “Albers on Albers,” Art News, 1966, p. 48) The paint is applied with a palette knife, which can be seen in the careful, small applications of pigment that strangely imply a sense of depth into a seemingly flat, depthless field of clearly outlined shapes. Albers would describe his painting technique in often mundane terms; he likened it to how he spreads butter on his toast in the morning — he starts in the middle and moves out, the palette knife replacing his small butter knife. The practicality of his process was predicated on skills learned from his father, a builder and house painter. When painting a door, his father told him, start in the middle and paint outward. “That way you catch the drips, and don’t get your cuffs dirty.” There is a personal association to Albers’ Homage paintings, which make them visually poignant, but not at the expense of excluding the viewer’s own relation to these shapes and colors. “There is any personal experience that enters here; it is your own personal experience – your color associations, not the artist’s.” (Nicholas Fox Weber, Josef Albers, Milan 1988, p. 10) There is both an optical and emotional sense of immediacy to this painting and others like it. The purity of its forms and the limpid arrangement of its restrictive colors yield greater, not lesser, complexity of feeling and response in the mind and soul of the spectator.


Study for Homage to the Square: Decided

signed with the artist's monogram and dated "57" lower right; further signed, titled and dated "Study for Homage to the Square: "Decided" Albers 1957" on the reverse
oil on masonite
24 x 24 in. (61 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1957, this work will be included in the forthcoming Josef Albers Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and is registered under number JAAF 1957.1.21.

$450,000 - 650,000 

Sold for $555,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York Auction 15 November 2017