Albers, Josef - by Aidan Dunne
Josef Albers: Is God in the details?
by Aidan Dunne
The exhibition 'The Sacred Modernist: Josef Albers as a Catholic Artist' is presented in co-operation with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University of Cork, Ireland. April - July 8, 2012.
Josef Albers, the German- American abstractionist artist, is being recast as a religious painter and the meaning that lies between his famous squares takes centre stage in a terrific exhibition. The Glucksman Gallery’s 'The Sacred Modernist: Josef Albers as a Catholic Artist' is by far the biggest and best exhibition of the German-American artist’s work ever seen in Ireland. More than that, though, the title spells out an ambition to reposition Albers, surely the archetypal austere abstractionist, as a religious painter. Drawn almost entirely from the extensive holdings of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Connecticut, and curated by the foundation’s director, Nicholas Fox Weber, an acknowledged authority on Albers, the show includes Albers’s earliest known work, an ink drawing from 1911, and his last one, his final Homage to the Square completed just prior to his death in 1976.
So there’s something going on in those squares, but is it something of a religious as well as an optical nature? Fox Weber suggests that Albers may have regarded the interaction of colours as spiritually charged. More specifically, he alludes to the configuration of the New Jerusalem sketched out in the Book of Revelation. The plan of the city is based on squares within squares, in proportional schemes that influenced the design of many of the great European cathedrals, another interest of Albers, as his drawings, postcards and books attest.
Born in Bottrop, Westphalia, in 1888, into a Catholic family, Albers was a practising Catholic throughout his life. “His father,” Fox Weber relates, “was a house-painter, and an electrician, and a plumber. Josef became a schoolteacher.” He’d become very interested in art from at least 1908 when he saw the work of Cézanne and Matisse, and he renewed his studies to become an art teacher. His first artistic commission was to design a stained-glass window for the church in Bottrop, Germany.