Josef Albers’ Intimate Visual Relationship with Music


January 11, 2019

Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Despite the economic dismay, class struggle and the domination of right-wing politics, the interwar period nurtured a number of important art figures whose deeds changed the course of modern art. One of them was certainly the German multimedia artist and theoretician Josef Albers, who came to prominence in the mid-1920s as a teacher at the famous Bauhaus school in Dessau.

During that period he met an exceptionally talented student Anni Fleischmann, who became his spouse and good artist as well. However, in the early 1930s, the two fled from Germany to the States after Bauhaus was disbanded due to progressive and modern ideas which were not welcomed at all by the ruling Nazi government. The Albers quickly adapted and started teaching at the Black Mountain College where each continued to explore and experiment with different media from graphic design, textile, screen printing, etc.

Currently on display at David Zwirner is an exhibition focused solely on the work of Josef Albers, with a special focus on the importance of music in the artist’s oeuvre. Under the title Sonic Albers, it features a number of paintings, drawings, glassworks made throughout his career, as well as the album covers designed during the 1950s and 1960s.

Josef Albers – Persuasive Percussion, 1959. Offset printed record album jacket, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

Rhythm is The Movement

Josef Albers was fascinated with music since the beginning of his career, and those impulses can be traced in his expressionistic depictions of dancers and flute players. These works, which are on display within the current exhibition, reflect explorations of the rhythmic potentialities of line, movement, and overall visual experience. In his 1963 theoretical work Interaction of Color, Albers makes the following compression between the relations of colors in artwork and music:

Hearing music depends on the recognition of the in-between of the tones, of their placing and of their spacing. Colors present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbors and changing conditions.

A number of titles of works produced during the late fifth and early sixth decade refer directly to music or sound; those compositions reveal the use of the principles of visual harmony and disharmony and consonance and dissonance, which were musical terms used by Albers in his teaching.

Josef Albers - Fuge
Josef Albers – Fuge (Fugue), c. 1926. Sandblasted flashed glass with black paint, 9 3/4 x 25 7/8 inches (24.7 x 65.7 cm) Framed: 10 x 26 1/8 inches (25.4 x 66.4 cm)

The Selection of Works

On display are Albers’ works from the Bauhaus years such as Fugue from 1926 (visualization of the compositional technique in music), and Treble Clef from 1932, shows how much musical forms and symbols inspired Albers to explore seriality and abstraction.

The fugue fascinated an array of avant-garde artists in the early twentieth century. To Albers, it provided an opportunity to construct a nonobjective visual system in which musical concepts such as measure, rhythm, beat, instrumentation, become abstract visual forms.

An engravings series titled Structural Constellation engravings are also on display. Albers started producing these works in 1949, examining the relationship between line and movement. Space is treated as a shifting category due to changes of the interconnected structure which ultimately alter the visual experience of the work. Similar interests are apparent in Albers’ signature works Variant/Adobe series made in between 1946 and 1966), and Homage to the Square paintings made from 1950 until 1976, which are also on display.

The installment features studies and preparatory works for some series, and they are fine examples of Albers’ working process, which he equated to conducting rehearsals and exercises before a performance or recital.

Josef Albers - Structural Constellation
Josef Albers – Structural Constellation, n.d. Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood, 17 1/8 x 22 5/8 inches (43.5 x 57.5 cm)

Sonic Albers at David Zwirner

This showcase is important, as it emphasizes the relevance of Josef Albers’ in the context of modern art currents of the time. Furthermore, it underlines the significance of the Bauhaus master in the development of post-war American art and influences his production and theory had on artists such as Robert Rauschenberg or Susan Weil; it can be said that Albers is the early practitioner of Op and later Conceptual Art.

The realization of this exhibition could not be possible without the support of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by the artists in 1971.

Sonic Albers will be on display at David Zwirner in New York until 16 February 2019.

Featured images: Josef Albers – Klaviaturen (Keyboards), 1932. Sandblasted opaque flashed glass, 14 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches (37.4 x 64.7 cm) Framed: 15 x 25 3/4 inches (38.1 x 65.4); Double Homage to the Square, 1957. Oil on Masonite, 16 x 31 inches (40.6 x 78.7 cm) Framed: 16 3/4 x 31 5/8 inches (42.5 x 80.3 cm); Variant/Adobe, 1956. Oil on Masonite, 15 7/8 x 30 3/8 inches (40.3 x 77.2 cm) Framed: 16 3/4 x 31 1/8 inches (42.5 x 79.1 cm). All images courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery.





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