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May 21, 2014

Josef Albers in Black and White

By Ingrid Skjong | Art

Josef Albers in Black and White
Josef Albers

When Josef Albers, one of the art world’s leading educators and theorists, was a child growing up in Germany, he loved going to the post office with his stepmother and hopping from square to square on the black-and-white marble tiles of its checkerboard floor.

“Black and white was in Josef’s bones,” says Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.

While Albers moved on to devote much of his work to the study of pigmentation, literally writing the book on it (Interaction of Color [Yale]) in the early 1960s, he never lost that early delight with black and white—a predilection illustrated in the exhibit “Josef Albers: Black and White” at Waddington Custot Galleries in London, the first retrospective in the United Kingdom of the artist’s achromatic work.

“There were, throughout his life, occasions when he depended on the simplicity and candor and strength of black and white as relief and reassurance,” says Fox Weber. “There is nothing like that simple balancing act of monochrome; it was home to him.”

Fifty pieces make up the show, ranging from paintings to glass items to photographs to engravings. Albers was perhaps best known for his “Homage to the Square” series of paintings; eight black-and-white examples of it are displayed in the exhibit, along with other notable items like Steps, a glass construction, and a photo collage of painter Paul Klee from 1929. (Study for Graphic Tectonic, 1941–42, is pictured here.)

Albers died in 1976, leaving behind illustrious protégés (his students included the likes of Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg), a sizable body of work and a renown for pushing the boundaries of what a simple line could do.

“His enduring contribution,” says Fox Weber, “was an ability to take minimal means and use them to maximum effect.” Through June 4; 11 Cork St.; waddingtoncustot.com.

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