Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color
The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s newest exhibition, Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color is inspired by the Bechtler Museum’s rare German edition of The Interaction of Color, featuring 81 silkscreen color studies that serve as a record of Alber’s experiential way of studying and teaching color.
Born in Germany in 1888, Josef Albers was one of the most influential artist-educators of the 20th century. Best known for his iconic color square paintings, his exploration and expansion of complex color theory principles and dedication to experiential education based on observation and experimentation, radically altered the trajectory of arts education in the United States.
Forty-five years after the artist’s death, this exhibition presents a selection of works from The Interaction of Color, which was originally conceived of as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, educators and students. On view in the Bechtler’s intimate second-floor gallery, the exhibition features 42 double-page screen prints, each demonstrating the ways in which colors can interact and influence each other. Albers suggested that color is best studied via experience, underpinned by experimentation and observation. Visitors see examples of different color study exercises that demonstrate principles including color relativity, vibrating and vanishing boundaries, and illusion of transparence and reversed grounds.
After enrolling at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920 as a maker of stained-glass, Albers soon began teaching in the foundational preliminary course (Werklehre) of the department of design. In 1925, the year that the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, he was promoted to professor and taught alongside artists such as Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer and Wassily Kandinsky. In 1933, under pressure from the Nazis, the Bauhaus was forced to shutter and the American architect, Phillip Johnson, made the introductions to secure Albers and his wife Anni (a Jewish German born textile artist and printmaker) an invitation to teach at the newly formed Black Mountain College just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. This experimental college was ideologically organized around John Dewey's principles of education and a belief in democracy and freedom.
The Albers arrived at Black Mountain in 1933 and remained at the College until 1949. As the head of the painting program, Albers set out with the primary goal “to make open the eyes” and in this pursuit, he developed a unique anti-hierarchical teaching method rooted in liberalism and strategies of defamiliarization. In his courses, Albers often talked about the formal elements of an artwork, such as color, as though it were alive, and linked the behavior of colors to elements of human behavior while encouraging the development of an artistic practice that prioritized participation, human connection, and empathy.
“Moving from simple to complex, the color exercises in the portfolio were not intended as a fixed body of wisdom to be handed down from a professor to a student,” said Anastasia James, Curator, Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. “These studies were to be understood as a guide for ongoing investigations and explorations of the possibilities of color and the results of their interaction and influence on each other in our own individual perceptions.”
Today, Albers’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Tate Gallery in London, among others. He was the first living artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1971. His 1963 The Interaction of Color remains one of the most influential texts used in contemporary arts education.