Josef Albers - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, March 7, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut
    André Emmerich Gallery, New York, (acquired from the above in 1994)
    Björn Ressle, Stockholm (acquired from the above in May 1995)
    Hans Werner, Stockholm, 1995
    Bukowskis, Stockholm, 25 April 2012, lot 249
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Toronto, York University Art Gallery, Homage to Josef Albers, 26 October – 16 November 1973, cat. no. 15

  • Literature

    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 1976.1.266.

  • Catalogue Essay

    'Our concern is the interaction of colour; that is, seeing what happens between colours. We are able to hear a single tone. But we almost never (that is, without special devises) see a single colour unconnected and unrelated to other colours. Colours present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbours and changing conditions.’ (Josef Albers taken from Interaction of Colour, New London: Yale University Press, 1963, p. 5.)

    Departing from the Abstract Expressionist trends of his time, Josef Albers’ life work was centered around colour experimentation – the artist’s search for and examination of colour interaction and perception is embodied in the series ‘Homage to the Square’, begun in 1950 and spanning over the final 26 years of his life. His exhaustive exploration of colour was a defining part of his oeuvre, from his early career at the Bauhaus in Germany, to his teaching position at the revolutionary Black Mountain College in North Carolina, to teaching, among others, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Motherwell as the Head of the Department of Design at Yale. This present lot is an illuminating example of the red paintings in the series – with the red hues symbolising passion and love, these paintings were so cherished by the artist and his wife that they were intentionally never sold in their lifetime.

    In this work the viewer’s gaze is drawn solely to the interplay of colour, as the artist strips away any compositional complexity by combining the colours in a strictly regimented structure of squares. The sole concern is colour, explored through purity of shapes, structure, and colours themselves. The scientific approach taken by the artist in his examination of chromatic interplay in its purest forms is emphasised by the fact that the exact hues used are quoted on the reverse of each painting together with the method of application: ‘all in one primary coat, directly from the tube’. In this painting each square is set within the next, with the tones creating the illusion of three-dimensionality, as if the squares are at once coming out towards the viewer and departing deep within the work. This work perfectly exemplifies Albers’ fascination with illusion conveyed by contiguous chromatic fields and people’s colour perceptions: “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, Interplay of Colours, New London: Yale University Press, 1963, p. 5). Executed some 19 years into the series, this work underlines the defining messages of Albers’ oeuvre as the viewer sharpens his focus to discern the precise borders between the hues and to fully appreciate the misguiding illusion of colour – the work drives us to intensify our perceptions to become more sensitive to the world around us. Nicholas Fox Weber writes: ‘As a teacher Albers was to emphasize the value of ‘maximum effect from minimum means’’ (Nicholas Fox Weber, Josef Albers, New York, 1988, p. 19) – and the present lot leaves no doubt that Albers succeeded in this endeavour.

  • 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: Wet and Dry

signed with artist's monogram and dated 'A69' lower right; further signed titled and dated 'Albers "Study for Homage to the Square: Wet + Dry" 1969' on the reverse
oil on masonite
40.6 x 40.6 cm (15 7/8 x 15 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1969.

£150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £425,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2017 5pm GMT