Josef Albers was a pioneering abstractionist, color theorist, and one of the most influential art teachers and writers of the 20th Century.
Born in Germany in 1888, Albers began his career as an art teacher, before studying lithography. In 1917 he received his first public commission to design a stained-glass window for a church in Essen. Three years later, he enrolled in the influential and pioneering Bauhaus in Weimar, a radical art school that focused on interdisciplinary education, regarding art, architecture, and design as one. Asked to teach design, Albers, who in 1925 was appointed a ‘master,’ worked alongside artists including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Oskar Schlemmer. When in 1933 the Bauhaus was forced to close due to Nazi pressure, Albers emigrated to America with his wife, the textile designer and print maker, Anni Albers. Philip Johnson arranged for him to work at another newly opened art school, Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Here, Albers once again oversaw the artistic education of many artists who would become the leading figures of their age: Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, among others.
Albers is best known for his Homages to the Square – a series of abstract paintings for which he developed precise arrangements of nested squares of solid colors. Disciplined, restrained, and abstract, these works, first begun in 1950, allowed Albers to explore chromatic combinations. His work represented a transition between the European Constructivists and the Bauhaus movement, and the new, post-war American art.
Albers’ 1963 book, ‘Interaction of Color’ provided the most comprehensive analysis of the function and perception of color to date and profoundly influenced art education and artistic practice, especially Color Field painting and Minimalism in the 20th Century.
Albers was given his first solo show in Manhattan at J. B. Neumann’s New Art Circle in 1936. He also participated in Documenta I (1955) and Documenta IV (1968) in Kassel. Since then, his work has been exhibited across the world. In 1971 he was the first living artist to be given a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Today, his iconic work can be found in nearly all of the leading public collections across America, Europe, and the rest of the world.
Josef Albers died in New Haven, Connecticut on March 25, 1976.