Josef Albers: Sunny Side Up
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Look out the window. How is it out there? Grey? Miserable? Is there a low-hanging, neverending blanket of suffocating cloud pressing down on the whole city? Of course there is. This is London. But in one chichi corner of Mayfair, the sun’s out. Modernist master and Bauhaus pioneer Josef Albers painted a lot of geometric abstract square stuff, and this show is dedicated to his particular obsession with yellow, orange and gold. It’s a warm hug of an exhibition, bottled (or framed) sunshine.
Each canvas here features diminishing soft-toned squares, overlapping and vanishing, all in the same configuration: big square, medium square, little square. There are sketches on paper alongside them, and a brilliant little sheet of notes and paint-tests where he’s scribbled his thoughts on the various shades, including a big ‘NO!’ over some beige. Amen, Josef.
It all shows how singular, driven, ordered and monomaniacal he was in his quest for pure geometry, pure colour, pure art. That’s what elevates this above what’s on the canvas – the passion and drive, the obsession at its heart.
There are imperfections here, lines that wobble, paint that’s smeared. I used to hate this in Albers’s work, wishing that he’d just been more precise, more computer-like. But it’s human, and that reminds you that beauty doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s a process.
It’s such a simple, calm, reductive and warming show, you’ll feel like you’re getting a tan. Don’t be fooled, it’s not real, this is London. It’s still drizzling.