All images© 2002 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Josef Albers

Josef Albers was one of the 20th Century's most influential and articulate artist/theorists.  Formulation: Articulation is an overview of Albers' life-time oeuvre.  Published in 1972 by Harry N. Abrams, New York, the works were chosen by Albers himself and produced in silk-screen under his supervision by Ives-Sillman. 

A selection of 66 works, including the introductory page with a picture of Albers, are in 39 frames and are accompanied by appropriate analytical statements culled from Albers' extensive writings.  Two text panels are also included: an introduction and a chronology of Albers written by noted author, art historian and independent curator, Gerald Nordland. 

This exhibition is an excellent introduction to one of the most influential theories of 20th Century art and is especially well suited for teaching galleries.

Josef Albers 
by Gerald Nordland

Josef Albers 
by Gerald Nordland

Analytical statements culled from 
Albers' extensive writings 
accompany each framed unit of 2 prints

 Contents:      66 silk-screen prints in 39 frames,
                       frame size: 15 1/2 x 40 inches
                       2 textpanels
 Space Req:  140 - 200 running feet 
 Crates:          2 crates: 22 x 47 x 45
                                       21 x 43 x 44
 Loan Fee:     $6,000 for 4 weeks + shipping & 

3615 Moore St. Los Angeles, CA 90066
                             Tel:  310.397-3098  Fax:  310.397-3018
        Internet:  E-mail: 

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Josef Albers 
by Gerald Nordland

Josef Albers was the one artist who taught more courses in more different departments, over a longer time period, than any other master-teacher at the legendary Bauhaus art school.  He had become a professional teacher in public schools before he enrolled at the Bauhaus in 1920, to do advanced work in the abstract stained glass medium.

Albers believed that one's individuality comes to speak in its own accent only after the fundamental disciplines have been mastered and the artist has come to terms with himself and what he has to say.  When Johannes Itten (1888-1967) was dismissed at the Bauhaus, Albers was asked to teach Preliminary Design and then Color in the Bauhaus' Foundation Course.  He based his teachings on his own experience and clarified his means by laboratory assignments to his students, in order to provide practical underpinning for the school's curriculum.  Ultimately he carried his researches and his teaching methods to the United States and influenced color training all over the world through his two-volume text, The Interaction of Color.  His research in color affected his studio work and such successive series -- Treble Clef, Variants on a Theme and Homage to the Square, which have established his place in 20th century art history.

Albers was keenly aware that most often there are no words capable of expressing the realities of visual art experiences.  Yet he spent years at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain and Yale University presenting his problems to students in such a way that they could only find release by discovering new solutions through pragmatic experiment.  In order to present his ideas he found it necessary to invent a new vocabulary, to develop a ladder of experimental problems that could serve as a progressive stimulus to the eyes and minds of his students.  Formulation : Articulation, published in 1972, is the artist's fullest documentation of the visual exercises of his art pedagogy.  The album is not an exhibition of his art but an embodiment of his experience.  It is not printed, but rendered by original silk screen process, conveying the precise color experience of the artist's color statement.

Sometimes accused of Germanic dogmatism, Albers was astonishingly open, saying: "There is never only one solution in art.  Life is change..." and  "When you really understand that each color is changed by a changed environment, you eventually find that you have learned about life as well as about color."

The purpose of his color studies was to prove that color is the most relative medium in art, and that we almost never perceive what color is physically.  He called the mutual influencing of colors interaction.  He taught us that our optical reception can be turned inside out, so that we see opaque colors as transparent, and perceive opacity as translucence.  Albers compelled his students to learn to see again, and to be questioning of their vision.  He pointed out that color offers uncertainties and "perceptual ambiguities" where three colors can be made to look like four or like two, by changing their color environments.  "Each color has different properties both as color and as buttery paste.  Each has a different density; in spite of this,  I want them all to behave; to do what I want and not what they want... One must taste and taste in order to cook just right... Until one has the experience of knowing he is being fooled by color, one cannot be expected to be very careful to look at things inquiringly.  Only comparison entitles one to evaluation... I want to imbue others with my delight in the endless possibilities for new color experiences."

Josef Albers Chronology
by Gerald Nordland

1888  Born March 19, in Bottrop, Ruhr District, Germany.

1902-05 Preparatory School, Langenhorst.

1905-08 Teachers College, Bueren.  (Teacher's certificate)

1908-13 Taught public school, Bottrop, primary grades.

1908  First art visit to Munich and its galleries.  Visited Folkwang Museum Hagen; saw first Cezanne and Matisse paintings.  Met Osthaus and Christian Rohlfs.

1913-15 Attended Royal Art School, Berlin.  Regularly visited Paul Casirrer,
Sturm, Gurlitz Galleries, Kaiser Frederick Museum.  Visited Berlin   Secession.

1913  Painted first abstract painting.

1915  Received art-teaching certificate.

1916-19 Attended Kunstgewerbeschule, Essen, while continuing to teach in public  school, Bottrop.  First lithographs and block prints.  Met Thorn-Prikker.

1919-20 Attended Art Academy, Munich; painting classes of Franz von Stuck  and painting technique with Max Doerner.

1920-23 Attended Bauhaus, Weimar. After Preliminary Course (Vorkurs), free   lance study in assemblage glass paintings.

1922  Reopened and organized Glass Workshop of Bauhaus, as journeyman. Designed and executed stained glass windows.  Developed one-pane glass paintings.

1923  Invited by Gropius to conduct Vorkurs in material and design studies.

1925  Moved with Bauhaus to Dessau.  Continued Vorkurs teaching as basic design for entering students.  Married Anni Fleischman.  Traveled to Italy.

1926  Glass workshop discontinued.  Developed sandblasted glass painting. Worked also in typography, glass and metal, furniture and letter design. Designed first modern chair in laminated bentwood.

1928  Remained with Bauhaus after Gropius and others left.  At International      Congress for Art Education, Prague, lectured on exhibition Basic Design.  Publications.  Wide travel.

1928-30 Directed Furniture Workshop after Breuer left Bauhaus.  Headed Wallpaper Design, Assistant Director of Bauhaus.

1930  New Director of Bauhaus Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

1932  Moved with Bauhaus to Berlin, added free hand drawing to his  teaching load.

1933  Faculty closed Bauhaus under Nazi pressure.  Josef and Anni Albers accepted
appointment at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, and arrived in U.S.

1934  Lecture Series, Lyceum, Havana, Cuba.

1935  First travel to Mexico (followed by nine visits).

1936-40 Regular seminars at Graduate School of Design, Harvard.

1936-41 More than 20 one-man exhibitions of Bauhaus period glass paintings in American galleries, N.Y., L.A., S.F.

1948-50 Served on Advisory Committee for Arts, Yale University. 

1949  Josef and Anni resign from Black Mountain College, travel in Mexico. Visiting Professor, Cincinnati Art Academy.  Taught, Pratt Institute,  New York.

1950  Visiting Critic, Yale University, Harvard University.  Appointed Head of      Department of Design, Yale University. 

1953-54 Visiting Professor, Department of Architecture, University Catolica,  Santiago, Chile, Institute of Technology, Lima, Peru; Lectures  Hochschule fur Gestaltung, Ulm, Germany.

1954  White Cross Window, St. Johns Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.

1956  Retrospective Exhibition, Yale University Art Gallery.

1958  Awarded Konrad von Soest Prize, Lanschaftverbandes Westfalen-Lippe.  Poems and Drawings published.

1959  Ford Foundation Grant for Creative Painting.  Retired from Yale.  Mural      for Corning Glass.

1960  Mural for Time-Life Building, New York.

1961  Retrospective, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.  Despite Straight Lines published.

1963  Book Interaction of Color published by Yale University Press. 30 x 60'  mural for Gropius and Belluschi firm.

1964  Medal, American Institute for Graphic Arts.  Sculpture for Arts and  Architectiture Building, Yale University.  Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts  Degree, College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, California.

1965  Exhibition Josef Albers: The American Years, organized by the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C. Traveled to four major American museums.

1966  Exhibition, Homage to the Square, traveled by the International  Council of the Museum of Modern Art to eight American Museums.

1967  Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, University of North Carolina;  Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy, Ruhr University, Bochum Germany.  Carnegie Award.

1971  Retrospective, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

1972  Portfolio Formulation : Articulation published in collaboration between  the artist, Harry N. Abrams and Ives-Sillman team of Albers' ex-students.

1976  Albers died in New Haven, Connecticut, March 25.


Analytical statements culled from 
Albers' extensive writings 
accompany each framed unit of 2 prints


The two contrasting constructions demonstrate a shifting away from an "only-one-way" of reading visual form to a "multiple" reading of the same image.

Presented are two stairlike figures, a large one at right, a small one at upper left.  They consist of three, or two and a half, steps built of vertical and horizontal planes which appear translucent or transparent.

The large figure, normally, is seen first and read upward, because its lower step is largest.  It also overlaps both the connected horizontal plane (seen from underneath) and the front of the second step, which is equally related to the following, the third step.  Therefore, the upward reading of the large figure repeats three times a moving up, followed by a backward down. 


Two versions of Homage to the Square.  A quartet of four voices which are reversals of each other and which present extreme contrasts in sound and mood.  Reading them in opposite directions invites one into a clarification of 
various ways of reporting nested colors. 

The nonpainter usually notices the outer color first.  The painter, since he must paint the central color first and the next color neighbor next, normally reads the outer color -- last.

Some spectators are led to notice their preferred color or colors first.  Others begin with "firsts" in quality (i.e., high intensities in light and hue) or "firsts" in quantity, measured either by extension or recurrence.  Sometimes grouped colors (as the two blues here) get immediate attention.

When it comes to reading advancing and receding color, there will rarely be agreement -- regardless of convincing decisions offered by theories based on color temperature or wave length. 


Four upright rectangular backgrounds (taken from folder I:5).  Each of these carries the same design (from an early glass picture), which consists of overlapping and penetrating groups of horizontal lines and blocks which we read vertically up and down.  The color in all four cases is precisely the same middle gray.  This appears dark at the far left and light at the far right, and on the second and third grounds appears somewhat metallic, with a yellowish and reddish tinge.


Two of three developments of an oil, Vice Versa, 1943, belonging to the Biconjugate, or "double-centered,"series.

Left:  Very thin, almost transparent grays.

Right:  In reversed order of light, in emphasized heavy grays.


Two "pianissimo" constructions in extra-thin white lines on extra-light gray grounds.  We see twin pairs of exactly reversed open prisms, reaching equally above and below each other.

In each pair the upper right-end walls and the lower left-end walls are missing.  Missing also are the coverings over the top walls and under the bottom walls.  On both sides, between the upper and lower open boxes, there are sideward-stretched parallelograms of equal size and equally placed. These parallelograms fulfill two functions.  They are, simultaneously, the bottom of the upper prism and the top of the lower prism, according to our direction of sight.  Thus we are confronted by two spatial penetrations.  Although all lines exist physically in one two-dimensional plane, in our perception we read this 
unavoidably in three dimensions.


A development through six years (1936, 1941, 1942).

Left:  A line construction of two very different halves.  Four thin verticals raise two, three, or four foreshortened horizontal rectangles to various levels.  Within the right half, six thin slanting parallels invite one to make a relationship of some corner points of a mostly vertical structure to each other or to the left half.  This, all together, produces a challenging confusion.  That was 1936.

Right:  The two colors, off-white and light gray, enter the inner shape of a similar drawing to the one of 1936.  The additional black surrounding the grays makes the left definitely appear carpet-like (flat) and the right half (still flat) distinctly standing upright. That was 1941. 


The afore central figure (folder I-13, right) is almost completely surrounded by a deep gray which again lifts the left half up two levels and on the right changes the high upright face to a three-dimensional large head.  The additions of near light red against the bottom, a more distant deep red above the central figure, and a pink-violet border framing the whole complete an unusual composition.  That was 1942. 


Four different temperaments of a very first group of serial variants, derived from and named after an elaborated G-clef (or treble clef or violin clef), started about 1931 abroad and ended about 1935 in the United States.  These were developed mainly in so-called colorless colors -- various shapes of gray plus black and white.

These show that any shape permits and invites various readings, which are caused by changing associations and different reactions and which result all together in a change of meaning.

Such changes of meaning depend on altered relationships of the parts of the compositions, on changing contrasts and affinities (different groupings), on placement, and on more or less concentration or emphasis.  All together, this changes the direction of our reading of the content of the pictures.  This is where we begin and end our wandering through the picture, where we return to or meet again.  On this journey we notice, first and most quickly, the large before the small, the loud before the soft, the bright before the dull; in short, all increased or intensified qualities and activities.  Compare, for instance, each of the lower parts of the figures -- the "torso".  All are of different character though precisely of the same shape.  They even appear of different size, extension, weight, and density, and the movement of the spiral of different speed, swirling more outward or inward, increasing or decreasing in tempo, looking more flat or more oblique, and so more dynamic or more static.  (From an early commentary for a slide lecture.)


Two closely related Variants based on one of nearly twenty developed on an underlying grid that offers an opportunity to develop the image with exact equal quantities of the colors.  The color instrumentation used here may remind one of a early color climate of the early Florentine School.


Two samples of curved compositions originally executed in sandblasted glass pictures.  At the left, The Impossibles; at the right, Rolled Wrongly (originally Falsch Gerickelt). On both sides are pairs of straight upright creatures most unusually rounded and curled.  Developed in 1931 as mostly white figures against black or gray, forty years later those underwent a drastic change in coloration, although the figure designs have remained precisely repeated.  All four figures appear in a light but restrained red-orange on a dry brown-red (either Venetian or Indian Red) ground.  The curves are articulated in black, and the vertical modulation lines in the color of the ground.  The whole, now, may be in a mystic stage. 


A very light optical gray, in each case amidst three light yellows, appears blind, bluish, and dark. 


Although without any obvious color, this assembly of four quartets of Homage to the Square, executed only in grays, presents a manifold tonality.


Analyze contrast and affinity within one color trio.


From oil of 1940, Bent Black.  On tiptoe and pendant between points.

This shows a construction that is based on a geometrical relationship.  If you draw a horizontal axis, in reading from left to right you will realize that the width of the passe-partout is the measure of an underlying pace, which can be compared with the beat of musical compositions.  It defines the subdivision of the two figures and their distance from each other, as well as the paper margin.  With this, the rule is recognized as a composition tool.

A diagonal drawn from the left lower corner of the figures to their right upper corner will show also that the corners are in a definite relationship, though sometimes outside of the  composition.  In this way, we can draw several diagonals and so prove that no point of this construction is arbitrary. Every part of the whole construction is distinct by an underlying structure.  (From an early commentary for a slide lecture.)


Occidental and Oriental -- color.


Again, two contrasting Variants.

Left:  Mostly yellow with gradations of light -- probably "morning."

Right:  No color, little light, no temperature -- possibly "timeless."


Two new versions of Prefacio, from the Graphic Tectonic series of 1942. (Originally on white paper, shown here on gray.) 

Left:  Black on gray ground.  Here all horizontals appear lighter than the verticals.

Right:  We reversed further, to gray on black, and this time the heavier lines appear lighter.

Comparing left and right:  The steps leading to the openings are lighted at the left from above and from below, or in cartographic reading, by North and South light.  At the right, the light centers from West and East.  Thus art is trying anew to do more than nature: two polar lighting directions at the same time.


A reversal of Seclusion, also from the Graphic Tectonic series.

The amassed white horizontals (at bottom, center, and top) appear whiter than the thin white verticals, just as the upright black rectangles (in the lower and upper half) seem darker than the black between the white lines.  And left and right from the center, thick and thin white lines resulting in small triangles cross the whole -- still whiter and sometimes even indicating color.  Physically, of course, all whites are the same and are the white of the paper.  As to the black, only one ink has been used.  But in our perception there appear different whites and different blacks. Thus we see all whites advancing from the black, though they are physically empties and are thus lower than the blacks.


As in Portfolio I, we start again with Steps in order to be reminded of the important shift from a "one-dimensional" to 
a "multiple" reading.  We use a parallel order with the same design, changing the four blues of folder I-1 to an off-white and two middle grays plus deep gray.  Because the darkest color dominates at the left and the lightest color at the right, we are tempted to see the grounds as being different as well.


Two versions of Homage to the Square, which could be said to indicate two phases of outdoor light under a gray sky -- merging at left and culminating at right.  When seen in II-5, the juxtaposition appears independent of nature -- noon and dusk now touch each other as great contrasts.  The result of this is a strange color interaction, particularly seen within the three lower colors.


From a construction of 1944, Fenced, originally a linocut.  Here seen in thin and heavy straight lines.  On the left the ink used is black, and on the right, violet-brown.  The heavy lines appear in three large and one small field.  When we observe the right print more closely, we see that the areas containing the heavy lines look surprisingly as if they were printed in straight black, as if the same ink were used on both sides.  Now, looking back to the left print, the areas with thin lines and the empty area at the top appear suddenly -- violetish!  We have no explanation for these changes.



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 alter from painting to painting without any additional "hand writing," or so-called texture.

Although 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, enlarged and diminished.  All this, to proclaim color autonomy as a means of a plastic organization.  (From an early text.)


Two Variants:  Climate -- Northern and Southern.


A collaboration between three alternating hard - and soft - edged, dark green Homage to the Squares and one which is extra citric and ripe.


Observe that a prism fits geometrically into a square and thus constructs the letter Z -- and "see," if you can, that the Z on both sides contains the same middle gray.


Within the same contour, two different and monumental linear constructions.  The outer contour is repeated; the inside functions are reversed.


Two versions of the same Biconfugate:  Indoor and Outdoor.


Here, more emphasis on "perceptual ambiguity," as the psychologists call a spatial illusion with several reading possibilities.  The two light gray shapes above and below 
the central zig-zag wall can be read either as receding -- 
in which case there is an empty space between them and we look into it either up or down -- or as ceiling or floor.  More surprising is that the two heavier grays, which appear first as distant backgrounds, turn near the lower left and upper right corners, suddenly to become solid volumes.  Such illusions are not possible in three-dimensional reality.  They are a privilege of two-dimensional design. 
(From notes for a slide lecture on Indicating Solids, 1948)


After these eight Homage to the Squares, all only in reds, see that the four squares of the same size (see folder I-23) in grays are no less appealing.


Two Variants in the same palette.  At the left the gray submerges although it enclose the center; at the right the 
gray dominates the center.

Without comparison and choice there is no evaluation.  And why are we afraid that thinking and planning -- necessary in all human activities -- will spoil painting?  The saying that 
the freshness of the first sketch cannot be repeated -- is admitting impotence.

Again we need -- in art as in other human activities -- more than mere self-disclosure (usually but wrongly called self-expression) or entertainment of starting effects and exciting accidents.

From paint to painting seems a small step.  It is so only orally and aurally.  Instead, it means a change from colorant to color.

Take, for instance, pure Viridian.  As long as it presents 
itself just as Viridian, it remains a colorant, that is, paint. 
As soon as it becomes questionable whether it is pure, tinted, shaded, or mixed with other colors, and as soon as it appears perceptually not there, where it wants to stay, it changes from paint to color.  This change is the result of relatedness.  In a painting, this happens when color in a mutual give-and-take with other colors (or other formative means) does more or less than it wants to do independently; namely, when interdependence results in contrast and affinity, both of which can go beyond all so-called harmony.

Consequently, in painting, the physical properties of color are of less interest than the psychic effect.  What color is is of less concern than what it does.  Painting is color acting.  The act is to change character and behavior, mood and tempo.  An actor makes us forget his name and individual features.  He deceives us and functions as another than himself.

Acting, and therefore active, color loses identity, appearing as another color, lighter or darker, more or less intensive, brighter or duller, warmer or cooler, thinner and lighter or thicker and heavier, higher and nearer or deeper and farther away; opaque turns translucent, joining colors appear overlapping each other.  When color acts, we never can tell what color it is.  The ratio of effect to effect is decisive in science, industry, and business, in politics and what it may lead to.  Why not in Art?

As equality is nonexistent, physically and mentally, the principle of equal possession remains utopia.

As the center of interest shifts from having to being, from static possessing to dynamic acting, psychology is getting ahead of economics.

This has been recognized and demonstrated in leading branches of art today, namely, architecture and typography.  There simplification and intensification have been applied as 
a remedy against an increasing and unbearable complexity of living, where, after a naked economical functionalism, the value of esthetics and the meaning of form are recognized again.

So economy, again, is a principle of action instead of possession.

The ratio of effort to effect is a respected principle of construction in engineering.  It should be considered a measure for all planning.

Therefore, I apply it in my teaching of design as well as in developing my own compositions and constructions.  This principle functions not only as a measure of economy but, more important, as a means of discipline as well as of simplification, intensification.

I know such considerations frighten those believing that art springs mostly from the subconscious.  I believe that thinking is necessary in art as everywhere else, and that a clear head is never in the way of genuine feelings, but of so-called feelings, which, unfortunately, are too often prejudices. 
J.A., 1949.  (From Ives-Sillman:  Ten Variants, 1967). 


After two early sandblasted flashed glass pictures. 


They are juxtaposed for various and changing visual effects.  They are to challenge or to echo each other, to support or oppose one another.  The contacts, respectively boundaries, between them may vary from soft to hard touches, may mean pull and push besides clashes, but also embracing intersecting -penetrating.

Despite an even and mostly opaque application, the colors will appear above or below each other, in front or behind, or side by side on the same level.  They correspond in concord as well as in discord, which happens between both, groups and singles.

Such action, reaction, interaction -- or interdependence -- 
is sought in order to make obvious how colors influence and change each other; that the same color, for instance -- with different grounds or neighbors -- looks different.  But also, that different colors can be made to look alike.  It is to show that 3 colors can be read as 4, and similarly 3 colors as 2, 
and also 4 as 2. 

All this will make aware of an exciting discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect of color.

But besides relatedness and influence I should like to see that my colors remain, as much as possible, a "face" -- their own "face," as it was achieved -- uniquely -- and I believe consciously -- in Pompeian wall-paintings -- by admitting coexistence of such polarities as being dependent and independent -- being dividual and individual.  (An early statement.)