Josef Albers: Black and White

Art Free
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Produced over the course of 26 years until his death in 1976, Josef Albers’s ‘Homage to the Square’ series ranks as one of the definitive masterpieces of colour theory. Each painting uses the same squares-within-squares motif to explore different colour combinations, along with their different perceptual and psychological effects.

As this exhibition sets out to show, however, Albers – who fled his native Germany to the US in the 1930s – also did black and white. What you actually see, though, is varying shades of grey. And, lest that sound slightly dreary, you soon come to realise the potential infinity of combinations: dark and ashen, bright and acidic; works whose nested squares seem to telescope off into the distance, others that jump out at you. Soon, you become totally immersed in a shadow world of greyscale that’s quite thrilling in its sombreness.

The second half of the show extends the rubric to include earlier works by Albers which simply happen to be monochrome – the earliest being a rather pretty ink drawing of a church steeple. More interesting are his photographs of crisscrossing railway tracks and tidal ripples on a beach from the 1930s, when he taught at the Bauhaus. Or photographs of Mexican pyramids from the 1940s and ’50s, which reveal his commitment to ideas of pattern and repetition.

These feed into his graphic material from the period, which is the highlight of the show. If you’re more used to his painterly, colour-block work, these crisply linear, mind-bogglingly complex maze-like patterns drawn on to graph paper or cut into black vinyl are a revelation. They prove that black-and-white need never be taken to mean unambiguous or simple.

Gabriel Coxhead

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