Exhibition view: Josef Albers, Josef Albers in Mexico, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (3 November 2017–3 April 2018). Photo: David Heald.
It is possible that society has never been more poorly prepared than in the present cultural moment to appreciate an artist like Josef Albers (1888–1976). The German-American painter's deliberate, introspective, and contemplative art seems in many ways to be utterly incompatible with our overriding fascination with the big, the 'now,' the provocative, and the bold, so much so that one wonders if Albers's legacy might be at stake. Albers, of course, doesn't make it easy on the casual art fan—the extreme simplicity of his signature paintings and their ostensible lack of subject can be, admittedly, hard to get past. Many critics have called Albers's work cold and austere. Many, too, deride him as representative of an academic—or worse, dogmatic—Modernism, a belief likely emboldened by the fact that part of Albers's renown derives from his legendary teaching career, first at the Bauhaus, then at North Carolina's Black Mountain College, and finally at Yale University.
But those willing to engage with Albers's work—or with Interaction of Color, the artist's 1963 book that reproduces the lesson plans and lectures of his influential pedagogical method—will find that the painter was anything but cold, and anything but dogmatic.