(Homage to Squares)
The Davis Museum is presenting “Josef Albers: Geometries” from Tuesday, Feb. 26 through Sunday, June 30, displaying a select number of pieces by the influential teacher, painter, writer and color theorist Josef Albers. Albers, who studied at the prestigious Weimar Bauhaus in the early 20s, produced numerous pieces of influential artwork during his lifetime that represent a transition from the more conventional European art influences of the 20th century to the new, American art movement that was taking place across the Atlantic. Curated by Lisa Fischman and Ruth Shapiro, “Geometries” gives viewers a taste of modernity that remains relevant today.
“Josef Albers: Geometries” sits atop the Davis’s first flight of stairs. Displayed next to the antiquities of the “Festina Letina” exhibit, “Geometries” sharply contrasts the antique vases and relief portraits in the neighboring exhibit with Albers’s distinctively abstract prints and drawings.
Arranged chronologically by date of production against a single wall, the Davis’s “Geometries” collection is largely made up of prints with simple color schemes and sharp, triangular lines. Albers’s mastery of a variety of mediums is apparent even with such a small collection, as his work ranges from embossed prints, to ink drawings and screen prints. Each work challenges viewers to interpret what constitutes a shape as well as where the boundaries lie between overlapping shapes and lines.
(Image of the exhibit itself)
There is an architectural quality to many of Albers’s pieces and several of them, including “Transformation of a Scheme No. 27,” an engraving on black vinylite, have shapes that look like the scaffolding of an unfinished building turned to the side. The wooden color that shines through the vinylite in “Transformation of a Scheme No. 27” reinforces this association.
Furthermore, the way Albers draws or constructs his prints creates the appearance of large shapes composed of intersecting planes moving from different directions. This produces more than just a three-dimensional quality to Albers’s works because it becomes difficult to tell where each plane within the work begins and ends, similar to an M.C. Escher drawing. This leaves viewers to interpret for themselves the boundaries various shapes present within the work. “Contra,” a work produced on linocut and the first work in the “Geometries” chronology at the Davis, was produced in black and white only; however, its simple colors and sharp, angular lines accentuate the fact that the piece has the appearance of various planes intersecting at the center from multiple directions outside the work itself.
The opaque colors of two works from Albers’s “Homage to a Square” series displayed at the Davis collection are fresh despite their light, airy quality, perhaps because they are in the midst of a relatively monochromatic exhibit. Both present viewers with three or four squares of color that seemingly overlap on top of another, with the squares becoming increasingly smaller towards the center of the prints. The way in which Albers paired colors next to each other produces the illusion that the squares are melting into each other whereas in reality they are composed of distinctly colored squares. Demonstrating Albers’s roots as a color theorist, “Homage to a Square” shows how the interaction between certain colors can be deceiving. It’s a shame that this particular Davis collection does not have more works from Albers’s “Homage to a Square” series because it would have been interesting to compare how various color combinations can create the same effect.
The simple colors and linear techniques used by Albers would seem to create works that are only mechanical and distant from viewers. However, the complexity of lines and shapes actually draws viewers into each piece. Albers’s intersecting planes, color usage and strange, often warped shapes beg viewers to continue looking and contemplate the real meaning of shape. His works also make visitors to this exhibit realize the subtleties of what various color combinations can accomplish.
In this way, Albers’s pieces portray that there is more to modern, abstract art than just “simplicity.” Instead, there needs to be a factor that draws viewers in, giving viewers the chance to interpret the work and and providing a deepness that is inherent in the piece without viewers having to read a book or pamphlet about the exhibit to realize it.