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Josef Albers
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Bottrop, Germany
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New Haven CT
A leading abstract artist, Josef Albers had a huge impact on 20th century art through his teaching, writing and theories regarding color as well as the examples provided by his own art. He is best known for his Homage to the Square, a series of some 1,000 paintings and prints exploring variations in color depicted in the same set of squares. He was also a sculptor, photographer and furniture designer. Born in the small German town of Bottrop (in the Ruhr district) in 1888, his father was a house painter and craftsman. Albers’s first career was as an elementary school teacher from 1908 to 1913, having studied at a teachers’ college in Büren, Westphalia. A 1908 visit to art museums in nearby Hagen and Munich introduced Albers to Cézanne’s works, which had a strong influence on his subsequent art. He studied the teaching of art during 1913-1915 at Berlin’s Royal Art School, became certified as an art teacher and returned to teaching. He studied lithography and linocuts at a school in Essen while continuing to teach, and also experimented with stained glass. In 1919 Albers entered the Royal Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied drawing and painting under Franz von Stuck (1863-1928). The first public exhibition of his works was in Munich in 1919. The following year he entered the Bauhaus in Weimar, where he continued his work in stained glass and other media and moved to complete abstraction. Albers was appointed a journeyman at the Bauhaus in 1922 and a master in 1925, the year he married Annelise (“Anni”) Fleischmann (1899-1994), a Bauhaus student in the textile workshop. He organized the glass workshop, executed stained-glass windows on commission and developed the technique of sandblasted glass paintings. Albers took on additional responsibilities as others left the Bauhaus, including direction of the furniture and wallpaper design workshops, and then in 1930 became the assistant director under Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). The Albers moved to Berlin when political pressures forced the Bauhaus to move there in 1932, where he had a solo show of his works in glass. Albers was among the faculty members who determined to close the Bauhaus in 1933, and he was invited to head the art department at the new Black Mountain College in North Carolina. During the sixteen years Albers taught there, he explored printmaking, continued to make abstract paintings and worked in glass. His wife Anni also taught at Black Mountain and became an innovative textile artist. A lecture in Havana in 1934 introduced Albers to Latin America, and he and Anni made the first of fourteen trips to Mexico and Latin America in 1935. During the remainder of the decade some twenty solo shows of his works were mounted in American galleries, including an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. He also conducted seminars at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. The Alberses became American citizens in 1939. During his 1941 sabbatical year the Alberses spent time in Mexico and New Mexico and then he taught for a semester at Harvard. During the 1940s he continued teaching and exhibited his paintings and prints widely. He resigned from Black Mountain in 1949, and after a trip to Mexico and serving as a visiting professor at the Cincinnati Art Academy, New York’s Pratt Institute, Yale and Harvard, in 1950 he was appointed chair of the Department of Design of the Yale University School of Art in 1950. He also began the series Homage to the Square, which he exhibited in a solo show at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York City in 1952. Albers and his wife spent the summer of 1953 in Chile and Peru, teaching at universities in Santiago and Lima. Reaching the age of seventy in 1958, he retired from Yale but continued to serve as a visiting professor at Yale and other universities, to write and to create art. In 1963 he published his treatise Interaction of Color, an influential text that has been translated into eight languages. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, organized an exhibition of his Homage to the Square that traveled to ten South American and two Mexican museums in 1963-4 and eight American museums in 1966-7. Albers received commissions for several large sculptures during the 1960s. He received many awards, including honorary doctoral degrees from Yale and the Universities of Illinois and North Carolina. Albers was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1968. He was the first living artist to be given a solo exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, in 1971. Albers died in 1976 in New Haven. (TNB 6/2014) Selected bibliography: Danilowitz, Brenda and Heinz Liesbrock, eds. Anni and Josef Albers: Latin American Journeys. Exhibition catalog. Ostfeldern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2007.