Josef Albers

By: Brian Berger
March 19, 2010

Need a chair? A painting? A lithograph, woodcut, stained glass window, typeface? If so, JOSEF ALBERS (1888-1976) could have designed it, and taught you how to realize such things too. Born in Westphalia and trained at a number of German art schools, Albers enters history in 1920, when he enrolls at the Bauhaus of Walter Gropius, then in Weimar. It was here Albers met his future wife and lifelong companion, Anni Fleischmann (herself a brilliant textile artist) and began teaching. When the final, Berlin Bauhaus closed in protest against the Nazis in 1933, the Albers joined the great exodus of Jewish and other intellectuals to the United States, settling — upon Philip Johnson’s strong recommendation — at John Rice’s recently founded Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Asked what he planned to teach, Albers, who then spoke little English said “to open eyes.” For a remarkable fifteen years, this he did, inspiring, among others, Robert Rauschenberg, who recalled Albers as “my best teacher,” and visiting professor Buckminster Fuller. In 1950, Albers became chair of the Department of Design at Yale University, where Eve Hesse would become a student. After his retirement in ’58, Albers authored the canonical Interaction Of Color, designed album covers for hi-fi bachelor pad hero Enoch Light, continued his astounding Homage To The Square series, and wrote koan-like poetry furthering his ethos of awareness first, self-expression later: “calm down/what happens/happens mostly/without you.”

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