Josef Albers German, 1888-1976
"Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature."
- Josef Albers
Josef Albers was born March 19, 1888, in Bottrop, Germany. From 1905 to 1908, he studied to become a teacher in Büren and then taught in Westphalian primary schools from 1908 to 1913. After attending the Königliche Kunstschule in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, he was certified as an art teacher. Albers studied art in Essen and Munich before entering the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1920. There, he initially concentrated on glass painting, and in 1929, as a journeyman, he reorganized the glass workshop. In 1923, he began to teach the Vorkurs, a basic design course. When the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, he became a professor. In addition to working in glass and metal, he designed furniture and typography.
After the Bauhaus was forced to close in 1933, Albers emigrated to the United States. That same year, he became head of the art department at the newly established, experimental Black Mountain College, near Asheville, North Carolina. Albers continued to teach at Black Mountain until 1949. In 1935, he took the first of many trips to Mexico, where he encountered the art and architecture of ancient Mesoamerica. He and his wife, the artist Anni Albers (1899-1994), would go on to visit Mexico and other Latin American countries more than a dozen times between 1935 and the late 1960s. On each visit, Albers took hundreds of black-and-white photographs of the numerous archeological sites and monuments they saw. He often created photocollages with these images, such as Monte Albán (ca. 1956), grouping multiple prints and sometimes postcards of various sizes in grid-like compositions on sheets of paperboard. In 1936, he was given his first solo show in New York at J. B. Neumann's New Art Circle. Albers became a United States citizen in 1939. In 1949, he began his iconic Homage to the Square series, an example of which is this 1969 oil on Masonite painting, also titled Homage to the Square.
Albers lectured and taught at various colleges and universities throughout the United States and from 1950 to 1958 served as head of the design department at Yale University, New Haven. In addition to painting, printmaking, and executing murals and architectural commissions, Albers published poetry, articles, and books on art. As a theoretician and teacher, he was an important influence on generations of young artists. A major Albers exhibition, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, traveled in South America, Mexico, and the United States from 1965 to 1967, and a retrospective of his work was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1971. The exhibition Josef Albers in Mexico is presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017-18).
Albers lived and worked in New Haven until his death there on March 25, 1976.