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Josef Albers

Josef Albers (b. 1888, Bottrop, Germany – d. 1976, New Haven, CT) was a widely influential abstract artist, designer, color theorist, and educator renowned for his iconic series Homage to the Square, which includes hundreds of paintings and prints of nested squares of varying colors. His work is credited with shaping the modern art education programs of the twentieth century in Europe and the United States.

Albers was born in Bottrop, Germany to a family of craftsmen. His father was a painter and carpenter, and his mother’s family included numerous blacksmiths. He worked as a public school teacher as well as an art teacher and printmaker before enrolling as a painting student at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. He started teaching design courses at Bauhaus two years later, in addition to designing furniture, metal objects, and typefaces and making geometric, abstract compositions on stained glass. Other Bauhaus faculty members included Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.

After the Nazi regime closed the Bauhaus school in 1933, Albers immigrated to the United States with his wife, textile artist and printmaker Anni Albers. He acquired a position as the head of the painting program at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina and continued teaching there until 1949. He moved to New Haven in 1950 and started teaching at Yale University School of Art in its new department of design, where he counted Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse among his students. In 1963, he published the handbook and educational text Interaction of Color, investigating the visual and emotional perception of color.

Often compared to German Expressionist woodcuts, Albers’ prints are marked by an intensity of colors that rely on adjacent hues, prioritizing visual experience over psychological or historical references. His solid dashes and blocks of color are an exploration of line, form, and color properties. With his signature series, Homage to the Square, which he started at age 62 and continued to develop until his death in 1976, Albers investigated the visual dynamics induced by juxtaposing colors within a strict geometric framework. This project, which continues within the trajectory of a life-long interest in symmetry, allows the vibrancy of color relationships to take center-stage of this body of work.

Albers’s 1971 solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was the museum’s first retrospective devoted to a living artist. Two years after the Albers’s death, a large collection of his work was presented to the Yale University Art Gallery, and in 1983 the Josef Albers Museum opened in his German hometown, Bottrop.

Albers’ work is set to be the subject of a major exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2020), and has recently been included in solo and group exhibitions at the Pinakothek der Moderne (2019), Toledo Museum of Art (2019), Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (2019), Kunsthaus NRW, Aachen-Kornelimünster (2019), Kaiser Wilhelm Museum (2019), Getty Center (2019), Art Institute of Chicago (2019), Kunsthalle Bielefeld (2019), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2019), Santa Maria della Scala Museum, Siena (2018), Sesc Pompeia, Sao Paulo (2018), Birmingham Museum of Art (2017), Yale University Art Gallery (2017), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2017), Vitra Design Museum (2015), Mudec, Museo delle Culture Milano (2015), Fundación Juan March, Madrid (2014), Fundació Pilar y Joan Miró, Mallorca (2014), Pinacoteca Comunale (2013), Accademia di Brera (2013) and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (2010).

His work is included in major public collections, among them the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; British Museum, London, UK; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FR; Galleria Nazionale d'arte moderna, Rome, IT; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, DE; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Valencia, ES; Josef Albers Museum Quadrat, Bottrop, DE; Kunsthaus Zürich, CH; Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, SK; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Humlebæk, DK; Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, SE; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, ES; Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas, VE; Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, AR; Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Universidade de São Paulo, BR; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Musée d'Art Contemporain Montréal, CA; Musée d'Art Moderne, Brussels, BE; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, JP; Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, DE; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, IT; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Seattle Art Museum, WA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München, DE; Tate Gallery of Modern Art, UK; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, IL; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY and the Zentrum Paul Klee Bern, CH.
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