ALBERS, JOSEF - The Photographs of Josef Albers. A Selection From The Collection of The Josef Albers Foundation.
By Philip Gefter November 29, 2016
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In 1923, decades before he began his pioneering work in color theory, Josef Albers became the first student of the original Bauhaus, in Weimar Germany, to join the school’s faculty. He had trained there as a painter, and was hired to teach a workshop on the craft of stained glass. But the school’s climate of experimentation—and in particular its animating interest in the tension between handcrafted and mechanical forms of production—would eventually push him to explore the emerging medium of photography. In 1925, his Bauhaus colleague László Moholy-Nagy published his polemical book “Painting Photography Film,” in which he suggested that it was the latter two media, and not the centuries-old tradition of painting, that were best equipped to glimpse the soul of a newly industrialized society. Three years later, when Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus founder and director, resigned, students and faculty gave him a book of their photo collages. When Albers moved into the house Gropius vacated, he discovered a darkroom in the basement. He soon picked up a Leica, the first handheld camera on the market, and by the time he left the Bauhaus, in 1932, had made seventy photo collages of his own based on pictures he took during the latter half of his decade at the school.
This month, this little-known body of Albers’s work is being published for the first time, in the Museum of Modern Art’s volume “One and One is Four,” which coincides with an exhibit at the museum organized by the curator Sarah Meister. The practice of photo collage, which had become a pervasive tool of advertising and political propaganda after the First World War, was naturally suited to the Bauhaus interest in integrating the machine-made object with the art of handicraft. But Albers’s pieces, which engage vigorously with conceptual ideas of perception and form, are equally intriguing for the intimate look they provide at the consequential artists of the Bauhaus, who appear in his photographs in informal moments of playful artistic dialogue.
Take, for instance, Albers’s study of his admired colleague El Lissitzky, the Russian artist and designer, who appears in one collage from two angles: the first, oriented vertically and taken from Lissitzky’s left, shows him smiling and looking into the camera; the second, oriented horizontally and taken from the right, shows him talking and looking away. Albers’s work isn’t a portrait per se but, rather, a perceptual meditation on his friend, as well as an investigation of photography and time, playing with the cinematic. Other collages by Albers show a single subject in a sequence of poses—Paul Klee in the flow of conversation, or Vasily Kandinsky smoking a cigarette—that mimics the movement of images in a film reel or the repetition on a contact sheet. In the magnificent “Bullfight, San Sebastian, 1929,” Albers presents three photographs arranged to create a swirling theatre-in-the-round view of the crowded arena stands, while a fourth image, arranged below, shows rows of cars in traffic shot from above—a deliberate comment on the encroaching mechanization of human experience.
Albers’s geometric arrangements of photographs prefigured some of his lifelong artistic preoccupations as a painter: serial variations, studies of perception, the use of the “square” as a signature graphic device in his investigations of color. In 1933, Albers left pre-Nazi Germany to come to the United States, where he was asked to create the curriculum for the brand-new Black Mountain College, in North Carolina. At Black Mountain, where Albers would remain as the head of art education for a decade and a half, and recruit faculty members including John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, and Robert Motherwell, he would deliver his only lecture about photography, a 1943 talk titled “Photos as Photography and Photos as Art.” The young medium, he said, “has all the advantages and disadvantages of childhood. It is still unafraid of spontaneity and directness.” He also touched upon the science of perception: “The most significant difference between the human eye and the camera is that the lens of the eye is flexible, and the lens of the camera, inflexible.” In his photo collages, though, it’s as if Albers was working against this perceived limitation: with his fragmented and layered sequences of images he conjured movement, played with time, and seemed to bend photography to the lively demands of his own eye.
Philip Gefter, the author of “Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe” (Liveright, 2014), is at work on a biography of Richard Avedon.
Biarritz, August, 1929.
Walter Gropius and Schifra Canavesi, Ascona, August, 1930.
Andreas Grote and his mother, spring, 1930.
Hotel staircases, Geneva, 1929.
Vasily Kandinsky, master on the terrace at Hannes Meyer’s, spring, 1929.
Paul Klee in his studio, Dessau, 1929.
Erdmannsdorfer Mannequins, 1930.
Reinventing Photography: Josef Albers' Bauhaus Photocollages
Apart from his oeuvre and his famous series "Homages to the Square", Germany-born American photographer Josef Albers is also known for his contributions to teaching art, most especially at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and Yale University.
His extraordinary career in the arts as photographer, practitioner and teacher was only brought attention after his death; his photocollages are remarked as extraordinary and inventive engagement with photography as it concerns seriality, perception and the connection between handmade and mechanical production.
His works will be up for viewing in the upcoming show One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers at the Museum of Modern Art, New York on Nov. 23.
Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). Marli Heimann, All During an Hour. 1931/1932. Gelatin silver prints mounted to board, 11 11/16 × 16 7/16″ (29.7 × 41.8 cm) overall. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. © 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: John Wronn
Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). Paul Klee, Dessau. 1929/1932. Gelatin silver prints mounted to board, 11 11/16 × 16 7/16″ (29.7 × 41.8 cm) overall. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. © 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: John Wronn
Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). Paris, Eiffel Tower. 1929/1932. Gelatin silver prints mounted to board, 11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker. © 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: John Wronn
Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). El Lissitzky, Dessau. 1930/1932. Gelatin silver prints mounted to board, 11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker. © 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: John Wronn
Josef Albers (American, born Germany 1888-1976). Untitled (Bullfight, San Sebastian). 1930/1932. Gelatin silver prints mounted to board, 11 5/8 × 16 3/8″ (29.5 × 41.6 cm) overall. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Jon L. Stryker. © 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: John Wronn
Josef Albers, Quetzalcoatl Monument, Calixtlahuaca, undatiert, © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany 1976.7.632.
De hippe Albers
23 november 2016
Hij is de kunstenaar over wie iedereen het heeft, van veilingmeesters in Londen tot de recensenten van The New York Times. En nee, hij is geen hippe twintiger die sculpturen maakt uit afval of trendy dertiger die met video werkt. Josef Albers (1888-1976), maker van abstracte schilderijen met vierkante kleurvlakken, is al veertig jaar dood. Toch staat hij nu, postuum, volop in de schijnwerpers. Deze week opende in het MoMA in New York een tentoonstelling van zijn fotocollages. In november 2017 volgt een Albers-expositie in het Guggenheim. En het Musee d’Art Moderne in Parijs bereidt een retrospectief voor.
Niet dat de in Duitsland geboren en naar Amerika geëmigreerde Bauhaus-leraar voorheen een onbekende was. Als docent aan Black Mountain College en Yale was hij van grote invloed op kunstenaars als Robert Rauschenberg en Cy Twombly. Albers deed mee aan twee Documenta’s en kreeg in 1971 als eerste levende kunstenaar een solo in het Metropolitan Museum. Maar hij bleef ook altijd een beetje een kunstenaar voor liefhebbers, een artist’s artist, overschaduwd door de roem van zijn studenten.
Nu wordt Albers in de markt gezet als de ‘missing link’ tussen het vooroorlogse, Europese Bauhaus en het naoorlogse Amerikaanse abstract-expressionisme. Een markant moment in zijn herwaardering vond plaats in februari 2015. Toen hing Michelle Obama twee van zijn schilderijen op in de eetkamer van het Witte Huis. Kort daarop maakte een van ’s werelds grootste galeriehouders, David Zwirner, bekend dat de nalatenschap van Albers voortaan door hem beheerd werd. In Zwirners New Yorkse filiaal zijn deze maand werken in grijstinten te zien, in Londen volgen in januari de gele schilderijen.
Op de kunstmarkt lopen de prijzen voor Albers intussen flink op. Een schilderij uit de serie Homage to the Square kostte tot voor kort zo rond de 250.000 dollar. Op Frieze Masters in Londen verkocht Zwirner in oktober een Homage uit 1964 voor een miljoen dollar. Vorige week leverde een Homage uit 1973 bij Christie’s in New York een recordbedrag op van 1.927.500 dollar, ruim twee keer de geschatte waarde.
Op Art Basel in Miami Beach wordt zijn werk volgende week door acht verschillende galeries getoond. Voorraad is er genoeg: Albers maakte tussen 1949 en 1976 zo’n 2.400 exemplaren van zijn eerbetonen aan het vierkant.