- Josef Albers
Christie's, New York, 9 November 2005, Lot 230 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, Gering & López Gallery, Dan Flavin / Josef Albers, May - June 2008
Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, New Haven & London 2006, p. 3.
Bathed in a chromatic deluge of luscious red tones, Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square: Signal is an ingenuous and elegant work from his seminal Homage to the Square series, which the artist began in 1950. Verging on the metaphysical, the juxtaposition of minimally varying tones of strong, intense red creates a work of subsuming beauty that is complemented by its radical theoretical integrity. In his belief that colour does not exist by itself but only in dialogue with other colours, Albers created an oeuvre that postulates the primacy of colour through visual experience. The artist himself wrote that “in visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art” (Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, 1971, New Haven and London 2006, p. 1).
The present work is a captivating exploration into the richness of red; layers of nuanced crimson envelop Albers’ archetypal Masonite surface to create a mesmerisingly simple yet theoretically complex visual experience of both light and depth. As the simplest and clearest of geometric forms, the square is a strictly rational armature that serves to explore the ways in which chromatic gradients yield fascinating insights into our subjective perception of colour. While Albers’ geometric compositions are in themselves entirely cogent, the combination of colours – ranging from stark contrasts to soft transitions – imparts an autonomous polyphony in which rational thought is abandoned in favour of a truly sensuous experience of pure colour.
The gradual repeated enlargement and reduction of the square forms the structural basis of these paintings with their specific organisation regulated by a fundamental checkerboard structure of 10 by 10 units. Comprising his most important series, the Homage to the Square paintings employ four possible variations on a rigid concentric schema; the first formal configuration contains four squares while the remaining three compositional types contain three squares in different arrangements. The present work is part of the latter: three quadrants comprise the pictorial composition. This calculated economy is again reflected in the use of colour, the physical characteristics of which are almost completely denied owing to the artist's strict technique in which paint is immaculately applied onto a pristine white ground. Herein, the homogeneity of the surface is of primordial importance for Albers. Elevated above all else, the surface is finished with the highest attention to detail in order to focus the viewer’s attention on the fullest chromatic impression possible. Without any linear divisions, the colour fields are in direct physical contact with each other, thus bolstering their transition from one gradient to the next. While this rigid economy of means is grounded in logic, it is in fact this very frugality that is prerequisite for Albers to create a cosmos of mesmerising optical effects that ultimately exceeds any logical or rational connotations.
Albers’ chromatic theories were firmly embedded in the belief that colour is never to be understood rationally but always in terms of its effects on the psyche. Whereas Goethe’s famous colour circle was derived hierarchically from the wisdom of natural science, Albers’ approach was one of dialogue, juxtaposition, and above all experimentation. Albers' vast research into the nature of colour and its subjective perceptions compound his visionary role as one of the most influential art teachers and theorists of the Twentieth Century. Albers first developed his theories alongside Paul Klee at the Bauhaus in Weimar, and later at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where his colleagues included Robert Motherwell and his students were Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg, among others. As part of the faculties of the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College – the two academic pillars of Modernism and twentieth-century avant-garde art – Albers was one of the earliest pioneers to embrace these institutions and use them as vehicles to spread his artistic beliefs. Indeed, looking at the pantheon of post-war American art, the influence of Albers upon the subsequent generation of artists was immense, ranging from Mark Rothko (a former pupil of Albers) to Ad Reinhardt and Mark Tobey, to name but a few. This extraordinary influence was institutionally validated in 1971 when Albers became the first living artist to be given a solo retrospective at The Met in New York.
Confirming Albers’ status as one of the most influential artists of the post-war era, Homage to the Square: Signal offers a superb blending of the artist’s conceptual brilliance and unique aesthetic. In its juxtaposition of rich powerful hues of red, the present work is a sumptuous and deeply evocative display of Albers’ longstanding and unsurpassed critical exploration into the aesthetic power of colour.