If you think of Josef Albers’ signature painting series “Homage to a Square” as adobe walls with window openings, you’ll know where he was coming from – Mexico.
“Mexico is truly the promised land of abstract art,” he wrote to fellow abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky. After Albers left Nazi
Germany for the U.S., he often visited south of the border, spurred by its geometry of Pre-Columbian architecture and palette.
And to hear him tell it, Mexico’s colors held the most sway: “I’m not paying ‘homage to the square.’ It’s only the dish I serve my craziness about color in.“
You can see Albers’ thinking in NY’s Morgan Library & Museum exhibit “Josef Albers in America: Painting on Paper” through October 14. Some eighty studies for his “Homage to a Square” paintings – some never seen – tell the back story of his famous work. Because his prep work was rendered on paper rather than the Masonite panels his finished work was painted on, his hand appears freer and looser than we’ve known it to be.
Morgan director William M. Griswold takes a deserved bow, saying, “This show is a prime example of an artist whose name is ordinarily associated with a rigorous and highly disciplined approach to composition, but whose painterly studies exhibit an unexpectedly spontaneous informality.”
The Morgan show will have you wishing museums would provide such unfolding of a work, not just the finished product. This is especially appropriate for Albers, who created some 2,000 Homage to the Square paintings between 1950 until he died in 1976. A painter who pays that much attention to a single subject practically begs for a show like the one at the Morgan.
The Ringling Museum’s holdings include a slew of Albers’ homages to squares with the usual exhibit note information about Albers’ “investigations into how colors interact with and alter one another when placed together.” http://pingroof.com/article/when-abstraction-and-reality-meet For fuller viewer appreciation, curators ought to update their notes to include the Mexican influence on Albers shapes and colors.