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Josef Albers

/Works and biography

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Variant ''Orange Front'', 1948–58
Oil on Masonite, 59.6 x 68.5 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice
Gift, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation,
In honor of Philip Rylands for his continued commitment
to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection 97.4555
© Josef Albers, by SIAE 2008


In 1947 Albers took a sabbatical year and travelled to Mexico. It was at this time that he initiated his largest series of paintings to date—approximately a hundred paintings in over ten years known as the Adobes or Variants, to which “Orange Front” belongs. Adobe, a highly durable building material made of sand, clay and water, gives its name to a low slung, unadorned architecture with vertical rectangular openings which is characteristic of Mesoamerica and which is evoked in the Variants series. Albers recorded his pigments in writing on the reverse of the Masonite support: “from center up: / Cadmium Orange … / Mixture of Cadmium Red Light … and Zinc White … / Cobalt Violet … / True [?] Violet …”. The image is painted over four coats of white preparation ( “Dupont Flat white and Dupont Semigloss white Alkyd enamel”). The painted surface (Albers left a small white margin of exposed ground around the perimeter) is divided into three centimeter units (19 vertically and 22, for a total of 418 units) Albers recorded for us the numbers of units ascribed to each of the four colors (orange, red and the two violets), being 107, 105, 111, and 95 respectively.

Nicholas Fox Weber, leading authority on the art and life of Josef Albers, has written: “A change of colors transforms both the emotional character and the apparent physical action of forms. Two paintings of identical format with different color schemes can have radically different effects. Colors alter their appearance according to their surroundings;….The Variants also demonstrate that incompatible forms of motion can appear to occur simultaneously. Many of the configurations in these paintings appear to oscillate forward and backward, left and right along the picture plane and away from it into mysterious depths. Clearly, to contradict reality and induce the viewer’s disbelief was part of the of the artist’s continuing mission.” (In Josef Albers: A Retrospective, exhibition catalog, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1988).

credits: Hangar Design Group