Josef Albers is more known for his “Homage to Square” series which resulted from his experimentations and fascination with color perception. The theme of such series all had the same subject and composition, variations only present in terms of color combinations. Albers held on to the belief he had as early as his Bauhaus days that art could have/does have a social role; as such, he claims that “the heightened sense of perception such as that the color combinations of the Homage series provoke, would result in an improved awareness of the world” (“Albers and Moholy-nagy: From Bauhaus to the New World,” 2006).
However, prior to his migration to America and engagement in geometric abstract paintings exemplified by the Homage series, Albers had a distinct style of artistry during his stay at the Bauhaus school both as a student and for the most part, as a professor himself. We would be able to see in his works in the Weimar Bauhaus from 1920-1933.
It is imperative for anyone who wishes to learn more about the less popular (but equally significant side) of Josef Albers’ art to take a look at the influence of the Bauhaus tradition on him. The school accepted Albers as a student in 1920 at the age of 32, but by 1922 he already began to teach in the Department of design, soon after; on 1925 he got promoted to Professor. Together with Moholy-Nagy, Albers was responsible for the “Vorkurs” at the Bauhaus, which was a prerequisite course for new students (“Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From Bauhaus to the New World,” 2006).
These details are important to note in the sense that the precepts held by the Bauhaus then played a pivotal role in how Albers’ evolved from his glass craft to a merging with his artwork in Bauhaus. It would also help to understand what vorkurs is; in such a way that the creations of Albers were very much exemplified what it is, at least in this author’s point of view. Vorkurs is a preliminary or foundational course with its emphasis on displaced usage of common materials in art. Albers first worked with glass as his main medium in doing his work. In entering the Bauhaus School, continued to manipulate glass which he found from war wrecked buildings. As such, found art is one of the aspects one could characterize in Albers early works.
The painting you could see on the right is an example of Albers’ found glass found-art during his student days in Bauhaus, which he entitled, “Glass, Color, and Light”. It is currently found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. During this period, Albers was able to reflect the social environment of his time; this work for example reflects the context in which it was found, exemplifying the aftermath of war in the urban setting.
The motto of Bauhaus was “Art and Technology—A new Unity”, it promoted a new perspective of art in its emphasis on removing the distinction between fine and applied art. Under the leadership of Walter Gropius, the academe was able to flourish as an avant-garde institution of arts. The aim was to merge aesthetics with technical craftsmanship, and it is in this sense that their educators and students (Albers qualify in both categories) are developed in the Bauhaus school not to be mere artists but vital players/participants in society (Snider, 2006). Albers during his stay in the said school imbibed such aims, aside from his glass painting, he also ventured into furniture design as well as lettering. He wanted to coincide with the school’s belief that there is functionality in art, and it ought to be able to be combined with industrial crafts. The most esteemed of Albers’ art meets design works is the “Set of four Stacking Chairs” image provided here through the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Here we could clearly see the influence of the Bauhaus tradition in the sense of Albers’ adherence with the belief that in art can be manipulated in such a way that it can be understood in utilize beyond the academe. If we are to see the trend of Josef Albers’ artistic journey we would be able to comprehend the extent in which he was influenced by the theme of industrial revitalization through design and material experimentation in war torn Germany. Although unstipulated, we could see the desire of Bauhaus and consequently Albers to spark a contemporary use of art that is able fit in the context of a country that needs to be awakened to the aesthetics despite being a society where production is an utmost urgency in order to regain the stability lost during world war one.
Albers’ glass assemblages were done with such craftsmanship in order to bring into focus the materials themselves, texture, color, to a point that we are able to determine the environment from which it was collected from.
Indeed we could see the depth of Albers views regarding art by browsing through his works in Bauhaus. He wanted people from all walks of life to identify, to understand, even use what he was making. It wasn’t as uptight as the high art tradition of Europe but instead resembles industrial design, and medieval craftsmanship rendered contemporary. The painting you will see now is the “Sky Scrapers on transparent yellow” in which we are able to derive the experimentations of Albers on glass as a response to the architectural changes during his time. The product of Albers art was aimed at becoming mass-producible. Also, with this work, Albers used an industrial technique of sand-blasting glass, once again putting central the merging of the fine arts to applied arts.
As an institution, the philosophy of Bauhaus has been integrated with a variety of art forms. In such a way that contemporary society places emphasis on industrial design as a form of art, or that the latter can be revealed through mainstream production.
As an artist, Albers is credited for influencing artistic movements, particularly geometric abstraction and minimalism, through his homage series. However, he himself abhorred style categorical labels in art, and thus refuses to tag his work with such. He was also able to influence artists like Neil Welliver and Robert Rauschenber (Pierre, 2004), through his works as well as through his teachings. The works of Albers especially with his experimentations of color and perception became reference points for optical illusion art; which Albers would probably warrant, in a sense that perceptions of depths and ration in his Square paintings are illusionary so as to awaken perspectives.
Although the Homage to Square was the most influential of Albers work, we could say that his works in Bauhaus was still able to leave a mark in the field of architectural design. His works on glass is reflected in various architectural designs, which includes his manipulation of industrial techniques in order to add art in common products as well as structures.
Albers was indeed a master of the Bauhaus literally and otherwise, he was able to integrate into his art form the demands for mass production to penetrate the art scene and vice versa. There is more to his work than meets the eye, in becoming an audience to Albers’ early works we are invited not only to look but feel the texture and the context from which he has drawn and composed his masterpiece.
Albers and Moholy-nagy: From Bauhaus to the New World [Electronic (2006). Version]. Retrieved July 31, 2007 from www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/albersmoholy/albersmoholy_tp.pdf.
Albers, J. (Artist). (1921). Glass, Color, and Light
Albers, J. (Artist). (1927). Set of Four Stacking Chairs
Albers, J. (Artist). (1929). Skyscrapers on Transparent Yellow [Glass Painting].
Albers, J. (Artist). (1973). Homage to the Square-Retrospection
Pierre. (2004). Art Icons: Albers. Retrieved July 30, 2007, from http://www.articons.co.uk/albers.htm
Snider, C. (2006, November 2006). The Bauhaus Philosophy. The Bauhaus: People, Product, and Philosophy Retrieved July 30, 2007, from http://academic.chrissnider.com/bauhaus/pages/philosophy.html