Josef Albers - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, November 12, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1962

  • Exhibited

    Raleigh, The North Carolina Museum of Art, Josef Albers, February 3 - March 11, 1962, no. 31, p. 36

  • Catalogue Essay

    Remaining in the esteemed collection of Florence Knoll Bassett for over 60 years, this stellar group of paintings by Josef Albers encapsulates the rigorous exploration of form, material and color that has come to define the artist’s influential oeuvre. From Gay Desert, 1948-1953, to Homage to the Square: Silent Gray, 1955, and Homage to the Square: In Wide Light B, 1959, each of these works perfectly demonstrate the groundbreaking visual idiom developed by the artist, following his departure from the Bauhaus in Dessau and emigration to the United States in the 1930s. Spanning both the Variant/Adobe and Homage to the Square series, the three works together notably offer a unique snapshot of one of the most crucial transitional moments of Albers’s career.

    Albers’s oeuvre is above all defined by his unparalleled exploration of color, an investigation that he started focusing on in depth for the first time with his Variant/Adobe series. Albers began this body of work in 1946 while staying in an adobe house in the New Mexico desert during his sabbatical from Black Mountain College, the series demonstrating a marked shift in Albers’s practice towards exploring color relationships within geometric forms. Gay Desert, whose sister painting resides in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, speaks to the impact of Albers’s frequent travels to New Mexico, and especially to Mexico. Albers painted Gay Desert between 1948 and 1953, when he and his wife Anni Albers were spending a considerable amount of time in Mexico. Both artists found a wealth of inspiration in the pre-Columbian artifacts and monuments, particularly as they pertained to the universality and enduring vitality of abstraction.

    Gay Desert beautifully evokes the landscape and architecture that the Albers encountered as they travelled through the country, and underlines how, as Brenda Danilowitz argued, the palette of the Variant/Adobe series is “unimaginable without the highly colored painted exterior walls of flat roofed Mexican houses” (Brenda Danilowitz, Josef Albers in Mexico, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017, p. 17). Despite these associations, Albers often emphasized that his work was devoid of references to reality. Writing on the series, he instead emphasized the connection to music and the precision underlying his material process: “All Variants are built on an underlying checkerboard-like structure. This provides a definite relationship of all parts and therefore unification of form. It also gives the time-space order comparable to the beat measure in music and perhaps also related to, ‘Division on a Ground’, the old musical term for ‘Variations’” (Josef Albers, “Variants: Measuring Color”, Josef Albers, Interaction, exh. cat., Villa Hügel, Essen, 2018, p. 149).

    This sustained exploration of color set the foundation for Albers’s iconic Homage to the Square paintings, which he would commence in 1950 at the age of 62 and dedicate himself to over the next 26 years until his death. Homage to the Square: Silent Gray and Homage to the Square: In Wide Light B perfectly demonstrate how Albers embraced the square as a means to give form to color. Homage to the Square: Silent Gray from 1955 in particular stands out as an absolute museum-quality painting – exuding the sensual chromatic richness and compositional clarity of Albers’s best works.

    In his pursuit of submitting his practice to an even stricter economy of means, Alberses embraced a reductively systematic application of color: to create his precise squares, he would work entirely free-hand, applying paint directly from the tube with a palette knife and carefully recording the technical details of his materials on the reverse of each panel. This exacting material process provided Albers with a framework to explore the phenomenology of color. “The Homages,” as Jeannette Redensek summarized, “are about color, about the mutability of color relationships, and about the malleability of subjective perceptions of color” (Jeannette Redensek, Josef Albers, Interaction, exh. cat., Villa Hügel, Essen, 2018, p. 173). It is perhaps not surprising that Florence Knoll Bassett, the grande dame of modern design, felt a particular affinity for Albers’s pioneering aesthetic. A true visionary, she acquired these works from Sidney Janis shortly after their respective creation, in the period between 1952 and 1962.

  • 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.

    View More Works

Making Modern: Property from the Collection of Florence Knoll Bassett


Homage to the Square: In Wide Light B

signed with the artist's monogram and dated "A 59" lower right; further signed, titled and dated "Study for Homage to the Square: "In Wide Light B" Albers 1959" on the reverse
oil on Masonite, in artist's chosen frame
18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm.)
framed 30 x 30 in. (76.3 x 76.3 cm.)

Painted in 1959, 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 JAAF 1959.1.47.

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $250,000

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

20th C. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 13 November 2019