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 formed by 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 craftsmanship, with a painter and carpenter for a father and surrounded by blacksmiths from his mother’s family. 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 along 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 at the college until 1949. He moved to New Haven in 1950 and started teaching at Yale University School of Art in its relatively 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, Alber’s 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are marked by an intensity of colors that rely on adjacent hues, prioritizing visual experience over psychological or historical references.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 forefront line, form, and color properties. As a printmaker, Albers wanted his work across different mediums or subject matter to share an underlying systematization.
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 in 1978, and in 1983 the Josef Albers Museum opened in his German hometown, Bottrop.
Albers’s work has been the subject of major exhibitions at Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; Fundacion Juan March, Madrid; Museo delle Culture, Milan; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. His work is included in major public collections, among them The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and Tate Gallery, London.