Josef Albers, “Variant/Adobe,” 1947. Oil on blotting paper. Collection of Hedy Fischer + Randy Shull.
Josef Albers, “Formula Articulation, Portfolio I, Folder 17,” 1972. 15 x 40 inches (paper) 8.5 x 17 inches (ea. image), © Harry N. Abrams, Inc. and Ives-Sillman, Inc. Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center Collection. Gift of Brian Butler.
Josef Albers (b. 1888 Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany – d. 1976 New Haven, Connecticut)
Josef Albers grew up in Bottrop, Westphalia, Germany, and was trained as an art teacher at Königliche Kunstschule in Berlin. He enrolled in the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920, joining the faculty in 1922. Albers was asked by Walter Gropius, the founder and director of the Bauhaus, to teach the preliminary handicrafts course known as “Werklehre”, and when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925, he was promoted to professor and taught alongside artists Oskar Schlemmer, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky. At this time, he married Bauhaus student Anni Fleischmann. In 1933 the Bauhaus closed due to pressure by the Nazi party, and Josef and Anni Albers were invited to teach at Black Mountain College. At Black Mountain, Albers led the innovative visual arts program until 1949. His courses emphasized experimentation with materials and color by doing simple exercises repeatedly and requiring students to rethink the ways they saw the world. He famously expressed that his goal was “to open eyes.” His classes at Black Mountain were powerful, with artists like Ruth Asawa, Susan Weil, Robert Rauschenberg, Hazel Larsen Archer, and Ray Johnson citing Albers as a major influence. Josef Albers became a U.S. citizen in 1939.
Josef and Anni Albers left Black Mountain College in 1949. Soon thereafter Josef was asked to head the Department of Design at Yale, where he remained until retirement in 1958. He published the fundamentals of his lessons in Interaction of Color, with the help of Black Mountain student Sewell (Si) Sillman. Albers received critical acclaim throughout his life, with shows at the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His work and teaching philosophy made an enormous impact on twentieth-century art and education.