JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976) Homage to the Square: "Suspended", 1953

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Lot 17
Homage to the Square: "Suspended", 1953

Sold for US$ 485,000 inc. premium
JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976)
Homage to the Square: "Suspended", 1953
signed, titled and dated '"Suspended" (Homage to the Square) Albers 53' and further annotated for color (on the reverse)
oil on masonite
32 x 32in. (81.3 x 81.3cm)


  • Provenance
    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
    Acquired from the above by the previous owner.
    By descent from the above to the current owner.

    Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, Art Since 1900: Privately Owned in the Pittsburgh Area, 11 January-10 February, 1963.

    This work was on extended loan to the Phoenix Art Museum from 1991-2015.

    This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Anni and Josef Albers Foundation.

    "Seeing several of these paintings next to each other makes it obvious that each painting is an instrumentation in its own.

    This means that they all are of different palettes, and, therefore, so to speak, of different climates. Choice of the colors used, as well as their order, is aimed at an interaction—influencing and changing each other forth and back.

    Thus, character and feeling alters from painting to painting without any additional 'hand writing' or, so called, texture.

    Though the underlying symmetrical and quasi-concentric order of squares remains the same in all paintings—in proportion and placement—these same squares group or single themselves, connect and separate in many different ways.

    In consequence, they move forth and back, in and out, and grow up and down and near and far, as well as, enlarged and diminished. All this, to proclaim color autonomy as a means of a plastic organization."1 – Josef Albers

    Painted in 1953, Josef Albers' resplendent Homage to the Square: "Suspended" is a breathtaking example of his 25 year-long exploration of color and its optical and compositional components. His presentation and analysis of color seen in the layering grey, ochre and finally an exotic mandarin orange appear at first to be a narrow painting exercise, however the resulting arrangement reveals itself to be a deliberate and calculated viewing experience, firmly grounded by the power of concentrated pigment and deliberate stylistic repetition. As the three squares nest in one another, the vibrant work is both calm and contained. The squares' slight gravitational pull towards the bottom edge of the frame appear as if the work inches its way towards the viewer and off the wall – merging the space separating art and subject and most importantly, sweetly welcoming the viewer into a shared space of contemplation. One's eyes wander the painterly plane, testing the boundaries of pigment and composition, entranced by the intricacy of simplicity.

    In 1920, Albers enrolled in the newly founded school of art, design and architecture in Weimar, Germany. The institution, known as the Bauhaus, emphasized utilitarianism, valuing both technical and artistic skillsets and emphasized the experimentation and practice of both theoretical and practical concepts. As the first student to join the faculty, Albers began his instruction in 1925, emphasizing the mutability and influential characteristic of color. This same year, the Bauhaus relocated to Dessau and took residence in the revolutionary space designed by the school's founder Walter Gropius. Surrounded by fellow artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, Albers' artistic identity and ideology flourished, as did the innovative philosophy and culture of the institution. By 1933, with ever-increasing pressure from the Nazis to conform and alter their principles, the Bauhaus refused to comply and closed their doors.

    In November of this same year, Albers and his wife Anni, an inventive artist in her own right, moved to the United States. At the suggestion of New York's Museum of Modern Art's curator Philip Johnson, Albers was invited to create and carry out a new visual arts curriculum for the recently established Black Mountain College, which reflected a Bauhausian attitude and sensibility towards compositional theory. From 1933 to 1949, Albers transformed faculty and students alike, and influenced a future generation of artists.

    His students, including Ruth Asawa, Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, were taught to investigate their own relationship with medium and all its aspects. As an example, Albers chose to dissect the notion of color, realizing that it [color] "must yield at least one interesting relationship over and above the sum of these elements. The more different relationships are formed, and the more connected they are, the more the elements intensify each other and the more valuable is the result and the more rewarding is the work."2

    In 1950, Albers joined the faculty at Yale, and around this time he began to explore his theories on color through his Homage to the Square series. Such unwrapping of artistic theory can be seen in "Suspended", where Albers pushes to explain and understand the subjective nature of color – how it changes and communicates with differing shades. This implied mutability gives color a temperament and identity all its own. Albers, in observing color's presumed communicative skills, personifies and activates its essential nature:

    "Such color deceptions prove that we see color almost never unrelated to each other and therefore unchanged; that color is changing continually: with changing light, with changing shape and placement, and with quantity which denotes either amount (a real extension) or number (recurrence). And just as influential are changes in perception depending on changes of mood, and consequently of receptiveness."3

    With the aim to analyze the relationships between colors, Albers spreads two pigments adjacent to one another using a palette knife straight from the tube, rather than on top of or blending the pigments. The white, primed masonite panel is a uniform foundation through his series of Homage to the Square paintings. Here, each pigment stands along, giving the illusion of layering, and in doing so underscores the importance on flatness and place of the artist. Seen as pristine and exacting examples of painting, Albers' works barely reveal a human element, inspiring the next generation of artists to discover the limitations of Minimalism.

    When asked about the importance placed on the viewer, Albers noted that they are the vessel in which art is processed, whereas painterly elements "demonstrate that true mobility is not achieved by making an object move but making an object that makes us move - besides moving us."4

    This intense examination of color – its aesthetic effects and influential nature – reveals an essential element of all art, declaring that color holds just as much meaning as line, shade or texture. For both his students and viewers alike, Alber's approach directly relates and relies on process of observation.

    When analyzing "Suspended", its core radiates outwardly, emitting an echo of color that inches towards the viewer. The viewer's interaction with the work is key, and when in front of the work, Albers urges one to "learn to see and to feel life... cultivate imagination, because there are still marvels in the world, because life is a mystery and always will be. But be aware of it... Art means: you have to believe, to have faith, that is, to cultivate vision."5

    1. Josef Albers, On My "Homage to the Square," 1954, The Josef & Anni Albers Foundation.
    4. Nicholas Fox Weber, The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism, New York, 2009, p. 336.
    3. Josef Albers, The Color in My Paintings", 1954, The Josef & Anni Albers Foundation.
    4. Nicholas Fox Weber, p. 335.
    5. Frederick A. Horowitz, "Albers as a Teacher," in Frederick A. Horowitz and Brenda Danilowitz Josef Albers: To Open Eyes. The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and Yale, New York and London: Phaidon 2006.
JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976) Homage to the Square: "Suspended", 1953
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