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Josef Albers

/Works and biography

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Homage to the Square RIII a-ı, 1970
Oil on Masonite, 81.3 x 81.3 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 97.4556
© Josef Albers, by SIAE 2008


Josef Albers began his celebrated series of Homages to the Square in 1950, when he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and took up a position as chairman of the Department of Design at Yale University. Albers wrote on the verso of the panel: “Study for / Homage to the Square: / RIII a-1 / Ground: 6 coats of Liquitex gesso (paint pigment) / Painting: paints used - - center first / Cadmium Red Lightest (Lukas) / Large Vermilion française (Lefebvre) / Cadmium Extra Scar[l]et (Skira) / all in one primary coat / [all] directly from the tube / Varnish: Lucite in Xylene / Albers 1970”. Squirting the oils directly from their tubes he applied them with a palette knife (not a brush) beginning with the center and moving outwards as he worked. The two smaller squares are placed below the center of the square that contains them. The lowest margin is one unit in width, the vertical, flanking margins are two units, and the upper, horizontal margin is three units. This, for Albers, served to create ‘tension’. It sets up for us the illusion of telescoping—with the point of view of the spectator below the geometric center of the Masonite board—though we are uncertain whether the telescope is withdrawing from us, or projecting outwards, or both, simultaneously.

Color is revealed to be subjective and subject to influence. The format of concentric squares enabled Albers to focus our attention on how color hues are affected by adjacent colors, and do not have absolute values. The image also has a spiritual dimension characteristic of the optimism of the early twentieth century avant-garde from which Albers emerged. By drawing the eye into a fictive space, by disorienting us in an ambience of dense color, by evoking the sensation of echoing sound in the concentric squares, the painting induces a mild loss of the awareness of self, a moment of meditation in which the emotive power of color on our psyches can come into play without interference from narrative, or subject matter.

credits: Hangar Design Group