Sale 25213 Lot 4: Josef Albers (American, 1888-1976) Contented Green 1948-1955

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, under no. JAAF 1948.1.8.

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Galerie Denise René, Paris
Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above circa 1985)
Sale: Christie’s, Paris, Art Contemporain – Vente du Soir, 5 December 2017, Lot 2
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Josef Albers, Fritz Glamer, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart, 1956, no. 25
Hagen, Osthaus-Museum, Josef Albers, 1957, no. 41
Freiburg, Kunstverein Freiburg, Josef Albers. Zum 70. Geburtstag, 1958, no. 36
Zurich, Galerie Suzanne Bollag, Josef Albers, 1960, no. 8
Wiesbaden, Galerie Renate Boukes, Josef Albers, 1962

Belonging to Josef Albers’ seminal series of Variant (or Adobe) paintings inspired by pre-Colombian architecture, Contented Green is an exceptional example from one of the artist’s most important bodies of work. Albers initiated the Variant/Adobe series in 1947 during a year-long sabbatical from his teaching position at Black Mountain College, which he and his wife Anni spent mostly in Mexico. Predating Minimalism by more than a decade and hugely important within his oeuvre, Albers’ Variant/Adobe works were first shown at Sidney Janis’ New York gallery in 1949 and are now undergoing a considerable institutional re-evaluation. The series is currently the subject of the major exhibition Josef Albers in Mexico which first took place at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2017-18 before travelling to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice then the Heard Museum in Phoenix, where it will remain on view until 28th May 2019.

Albers travelled to Mexico fourteen times over the course of three decades, avidly absorbing and documenting the country’s Mayan, Zapotec and Aztec archaeological sites. Profoundly impacted by the sun-filled landscapes, awe-inspiring colours and geometric splendour of pre-Hispanic buildings such as the traditional pueblo houses in adobe clay, he wrote to Nina and Wassily Kandinsky that “Mexico is truly the promised land of abstract art, which here is thousands of years old” (the artist in: Heinz Liesbrock, Anni and Josef Albers: Latin American Journeys, Berlin 2007, p. 9). The country’s tremendous influence on his oeuvre was reciprocal. Luis Barragán – arguably Mexico’s most important architect of the 20th century – cited Albers as one of his great sources of inspiration. The pair shared a mutual admiration after meeting in Mexico City in the 1950s, and Barragán wrote to Albers in 1967 “[I have a] profound respect for your work, a lifelong process from which many people, now so bound to improvisation, would learn the steadiness of a profound insight” (Luis Barragán in a letter to Josef Albers, 1967, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation).

Divided in contrasting panes of colour, Contented Green’s horizontal composition perforated by window-like apertures radiates a luminous energy. Shades of emerald, forest and cerulean green coalesce on the surface but each hue impacts the composition equally, pulsing with its own intrinsic light and cadence. Executed between 1948 and 1955, it epitomises the confluence of Albers’ passion for Mexico’s cultural heritage with his studies of colour theory, which date back to his Bauhaus years. Born in Germany, Albers entered the Bauhaus as a student in 1920 then as a professor in 1922. When the school closed down due to Nazi pressure in 1933 he emigrated to the United States where he headed the painting programme at the newly-founded Black Mountain College, counting Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly among his students, before joining Yale University’s faculty in 1950. Highly respected as a teacher and scholar, his theories on colour interaction and structural geometry shaped the course of modern art by inspiring movements such as Minimalism, Colour Field Painting and Op Art.

Predating Albers’ Homage to the Square series – his other crucial body of work – the exquisitely balanced Variant/Adobe paintings are a resounding testament of the artist’s creative debt to the Mesoamerican world.
Laying unmixed pigment straight from the tube with a palette knife and playing with the effect of the Masonite support’s weaved texture, these works burst with a dynamic rhythm generated by the juxtaposition of colour and form.

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