Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color

By Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, "Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color" is inspired by the Bechtler’s rare German edition of "The Interaction of Color," and features 42 double-page screen prints, each demonstrating the ways in which colors can interact and influence each other.  

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

This exhibition presents a selection of works from Albers’ portfolio The Interaction of Color, which was originally conceived of as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, educators, and students.

Josef Albers teaching at Yale University (1953) by John Wheelock FreemanBechtler Museum of Modern Art

Born in Germany in 1888, Josef Albers was one of the most influential artist-educators of the 20th century. Best known for his iconic color square paintings, his exploration and expansion of complex color theory principles and dedication to experiential education based on observation and experimentation, radically altered the trajectory of arts education in the United States.

Throughout his 30-year career as an educator, Albers collected and documented the exercises created by his students in his color courses, which were inaugurated at Black Mountain College and reached their development at Yale University. In addition to publishing his own studies, Albers selected many student exercises for publication in The Interaction of Color. When known, the names of his students were listed alphabetically in the original edition, followed by the numbers of the folders containing their studies.

Josef Albers and student, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1959) by Norman BoothbyBechtler Museum of Modern Art

During his tenure at both Black Mountain College and Yale University, Josef Albers was known as a passionate educator who inspired new ways of seeing. Around the time this footage was captured, Albers wrote, “Learn to see and to feel life, cultivate imagination, because there are still marvels in the world, because life is a mystery and always will be . . art means: you have to believe, to have faith, that is, to cultivate vision.”

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

You are invited to observe and experience a selection of individual color exercises from The Interaction of Color portfolio on this wall.

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

Each exercise represents the result of a specific color exercise dealing with some aspect of color interaction or relativity. Moving from simple to complex, from left to right, and top to bottom, many exercises build upon the results of the ones that precede them.

V-3 Lighter and/or Darker – Light Intensity, Lightness from The Interaction of Color portfolio (1963) by Josef AlbersBechtler Museum of Modern Art

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

XVI-3 Color Juxtaposition – Harmony, Quantity from The Interaction of Color portfolio (1963) by Josef AlbersBechtler Museum of Modern Art

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

IX-1 Color Mixture in a Paper – Illusion of Transparence from The Interaction of Color portfolio (1963) by Josef AlbersBechtler Museum of Modern Art

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

This photograph depicts Josef Albers teaching color theory at Black Mountain College during the summer session of 1944, the first of a series of legendary summer music and art institutes at the college. In Albers’ classes, from the 1940s onwards, students would first work with colored papers rather than with paint.

Josef Albers Teaching His Color Class at Black Mountain College (1944) by © Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, courtesy of the Gitterman Gallery and the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

Albers would collect paper from local printers, out-of-date commercial catalogues, and packs of five-and-dime-store construction paper and bring them to class in a large suitcase which he would place in the middle of the room. One student recalled, “we scrounged in this well of paper scraps to get what we needed… there was just a big mess of papers, and you had to look for it. And in the looking for it, something happened.” Here, Albers is seen demonstrating what would become the exercise from Chapter VII titled “The Subtraction of Color” in The Interaction of Color, an exercise which tasked students to make two different colors look alike, or four colors to look like three by experimenting with both light and dark backgrounds.

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

The case to the left of the enlarged photograph contains examples of a specific type of exercise utilized by Josef Albers in the classroom called the matière, or material study. The matière, was a central component of the Bauhaus preliminary course, developed by Johanness Itten.

Matière exercises addressed a student’s perception of objects by touch and direct experience through combinations and manipulations of simple materials.

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

At Black Mountain College, where nature was abundant and fine arts materials limited, Albers encouraged students to incorporate natural and commonly found materials into their studies.

He continued to utilize this teaching exercise at Yale University, where he stated in a lecture “you mustn’t think of the autumn as a time of sadness, when winter is coming, because all the trees, they know winter is coming, so they get drunk! With color! Ach, it’s beautiful! So now bring in leaf studies!”

Of note is the study located in the upper left hand corner of this case, which was created by Eve Hesse (1936–1970), a sculptor who became known for her pioneering work in materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics and was among a group of artists that ushered in the post minimal art movement.

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color (2021) by Brandon ScottBechtler Museum of Modern Art

This print illustrates the rarely published equilateral triangle color system, depicting three primary colors, three secondary colors, and three tertiary colors.

The first of the three trios, the primary colors, are in the three corners: Yellow and blue at the base, and red at the apex. The less opposite secondary colors are in the middle of the outer edges, and the tertiaries naturally meet in the center.

Chapter XXIV-1 The Equilateral Triangle (1963) by Josef AlbersBechtler Museum of Modern Art

This print is from the final numbered chapter of The Interaction of Color titled Color Theories. In Albers’ prescribed course of study, students were introduced to color systems at the end of a class, only after they had developed a sensitive eye for color through practice. In addition to examining the equilateral triangle system, Albers would also present the Munsell Color Tree, the Ostwald Color System, and the Faber Birren Color System. Albers was particularly interested in the differences between the systems and their limitations, specifically in connection with painting where color harmonies, often the special interest of color systems, are not the only desirable relationship.

Credits: Story

"Josef Albers: The Interaction of Color" was curated by Anastasia James with assistance from Shannon White, Director of Collections; Christopher Kralovec, Exhibition Manager and Preparator; and Stephanie Lepore, Graphic Designer. The Bechtler would like to thank the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Yale University Press the Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, and the Gitterman Gallery for their cooperation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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