Josef Albers - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Saturday, June 28, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York; Galerie Denise René, Paris

  • Exhibited

    Boston, The Pace Gallery, Josef Albers, November 1962; Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, L'Art Vivant 1965-68, April-June 1968, no. 4; Helsinki, The Art Museum of Ateneum, and Tampere, The Museum of Modern Art, ARS 69, March-May 1969, no. 1

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed in 1961, the present lot is a prime example of Albers’ most signature body of work – ‘Homage to the square series’.  In the 1950s, at the age of 62, and for over the next 26 years, Albers began working on his basic compositional scheme of three or four squares set inside each other, with the squares slightly gravitating towards the bottom edge.  Producing hundreds of variations of these, Albers was exploring the narrow conceptual framework of the square, whilst revealing it as one of geometry’s most extraordinary perceptual complexity.  
    Albers’ ‘Homage series’ adopted the shape of the square structure and related it mathematically to each other square size within the painting.  Using a colour palette that was clearly thought-through, the artist aimed for each paintings’ shades to react with each other when viewed and processed by the human eye, causing optical illusions due to the eye’s ability to continually change the colours in ways that echo, support and oppose one another. Executing these paintings with a deliberate, careful technique using a minimum of tools and paint and avoiding any sort of painterly chaos, as that which had been embraced by the Abstract Expressionists of his generation – Albers would apply one base or primary coat on masonite, upon which he squeezed unmixed paints directly from the tubes and speared the paint evenly and as thinly as possible with a palette knife within each individual square. Whereas the early Homages are characterised by a sense of chromatic adventurousness and the rejection of inherited colour theories, the later Homages are far more subtle in their gradations. Prolonged looking at these seemingly simple compositions produces intense visual pleasure, not least because it is impossible to retain an accurate afterimage. But the Homages should not be understood as a self-absorbed formalist exercise. Albers never left the Bauhaus behind, insisting to the end on the ethical dimension of art: a heightened sense of perception, he believed, would result in a greater awareness of the world.

  • 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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Homage to the square: Sunday

Oil on masonite.
101.6 x 101.6 cm (40 x 40 in).
Signed with monogram and dated ‘A61' lower left and signed, titled and dated ‘Homage to the Square: "Sunday" Albers' on the reverse.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2008, 5pm