Josef Albers - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Galerie Beyeler, Basel
    Galerie Melki, Paris
    Studio Bassi, Milan
    Acquired from the above by the present owner prior to 1990

  • Catalogue Essay

    Masterful in its geometry and form, Study for Homage to the Square: Awakening from 1963 is a prime example of Josef Albers’ command of color and visual language. Presenting the viewer with a vivid structure of yellow and grey, three tonal bands are skillfully aligned within the composition. The present lot has two similar companion paintings entitled Awakening A and Awaking B, which reside in the collection of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. The reverse of Albers’ Homage paintings read like a complete recipe for their construction, listing their specific paint colors, in this case yellow ultramarine, Scheveningen Yellow and Optical grey. These carefully selected hues are prudently 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.”

    The format of the square composition came to define Josef Albers' most iconic series of paintings. The optical effects of the exquisite color combination radiate from the simplicity of form, expertly illustrating the artist’s notion that adjustments to placement, shape and light significantly alter one’s perception of color. 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” (that artist, quoted in “Albers on Albers,” Art News, 1966, p. 48).

Property of an Important European Family Collection


Study for Homage to the Square: Awakening

signed with the artist's monogram and dated "63" lower right; further signed, titled and dated ""Study for Homage to the Square "Awakening" Albers 1963" on the reverse
oil on Masonite
24 x 24 in. (61 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1963, 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 1963.1.91.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $399,000

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New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018