Installation view of the exhibition Sonic Albers, at David Zwirner in New York, dated January 8 through February 16, 2019.

Josef Albers

Sonic Albers

David Zwirner is pleased to present Sonic Albers, an exhibition that examines Josef Albers’s relationship to music, musical imagery, and sonic phenomena, on view at the gallery’s 537 West 20th Street location in New York. Organized in collaboration with The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, the show will provide a far-reaching look at this underexplored facet of the artist’s practice. It will feature a wide selection of paintings, glassworks, drawings, and ephemera from throughout Albers’s career, including a number of the album covers he designed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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Image: Installation view, Josef Albers: Sonic Albers, David Zwirner, New York, 2019

Dates
January 8February 16, 2019
Opening reception
Tuesday, January 8, 6–8 PM
Artist
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation M-9, dated 1954.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation M-9

The genesis of this exhibition is the book Sonic Design: The Nature of Sound and Music. Josef Albers was fascinated by this incisive text by Robert Cogan and Pozzi Escot when it came out in early 1976. The chapter on "musical space" reproduces one of Albers’s Structural Constellations from 1957 and quotes from the tauntingly titled Despite Straight Lines, a 1961 book about Albers’s linear geometric art: "As in Schoenberg’s Opus 9, no. 6, details vibrate in several directions simultaneously.'

Sonic Design launched the 87-year-old artist on an adventure. The comparison to music delighted him. The link to Schoenberg did too; Kandinsky had invited the composer to the Bauhaus, where Albers studied and taught. These creative geniuses all exulted in experimentation and the unprecedented. And the intersection of music and art was rich territory for them. Albers spoke and wrote about it vividly; for instance, he notes of his glass construction Fugue (c. 1926) that "it presents a very pronounced parallel to the fundamental structure of classical music.… It recalls beat (as measured by metronome) in its vertical, static order.… It performs rhythm … by changing pronunciation and speed.… As to instrumentation, it consists of three very contrasting voices, white and black on a bright red ground.… As a parallel to ‘acoustic’ mixture in music, it produces, in perceptual interaction, many nuances of the three colors used."

A painting on paper by Josef Albers, titled Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, circa 1970.

Josef Albers

Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, c. 1970
Oil on blotting paper
12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm) Framed: 16 1/4 x 16 1/8 inches (41.3 x 41 cm)

The relationship of only a few solid colors, not mixed, but each pure and independent, adjacent to one another, as in Albers’s Variants and Homages to the Square, creates the acoustic mixtures of music—in all their nuances and richness. Albers once told an interviewer What I want is to play staccato and legato—and all the other musical terms. Look at his juxtaposed greens and blue-greens in the Variants and Homages in this exhibition, and you are rewarded with a range of tempos and the impact of careful orchestration in which individual instruments combine for ever-changing sequences of glorious chords.

The glories of music were vital to Albers; he replicated treble clefs and piano keyboards in his early art. What had movement and rhythm, adventurousness as well as grace, spirit with order, delighted him in whatever he heard. He and Anni Albers happened upon the music of Charles Ives one day on the car radio and thrilled to it, akin to what they felt during their Christmas Eve rituals of listening to a recording of a performance on a period harpsichord of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on their cassette tape player.

—Text by Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

An untitled painting on a wooden Victrola gramophone lid by Josef Albers, dated 1940 to 1941.

Josef Albers

Untitled, 1940-1941
Oil on wooden Victrola gramophone lid
14 x 12 inches (35.6 x 30.5 cm)

In 1933, Josef Albers and his wife, Anni, emigrated to the United States to take up teaching positions at Black Mountain College, an experimental art school near Asheville, North Carolina. The unique, avant-garde program Josef designed integrated different art forms, an approach propelled by his fervent belief in the relationships between elements as the starting point for cultivating vision. Among those Albers invited to teach at Black Mountain were the composer John Cage and the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, who together staged a production of Erik Satie’s The Ruse of Medusa (1913) at the school’s 1948 summer session.

 

In a lecture delivered in Asheville in 1935, Albers drew on analogies with music in discussing abstract art: "Why should we painters not have the same right to combine, like the musician, our medium—form, colors, proportions and so on. You allow the architect to use forms without any representation. You allow the dancer to combine his movements to a composition without any sense of a thing or a situation, or to work only in a musical way. Everybody who likes Fred Astaire is an admirer of abstract art, and he who wants to dance like him, wants to be an abstract artist."

What are pure art aims?
That music is primarily a combination of tones
Painting a combination of colors

Dancing a combination of movements.
Let us say this in artistic terms: we want more

Composition

Combination

Construction

Dynamic and static

Weight and qualities

Rhythm and balance

and so on.
—Josef Albers in "Abstract Art," a paper presented at City Hall, Asheville, North Carolina, August 1935

A painting by Josef Albers, titled Double Homage to the Square, dated 1957.

Josef Albers

Double Homage to the Square, 1957
Oil on Masonite
16 x 31 inches (40.6 x 78.7 cm) Framed: 16 3/4 x 31 5/8 inches (42.5 x 80.3 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Provocative Percussion, dated 1959.

Josef Albers

Provocative Percussion, 1959
Offset printed record album jacket
12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm)

In the late 1950s, a former student of Albers’s at Yale, Charles E. Murphy, then artistic director at Command Records, invited the artist to contribute artwork for the first album cover he managed for the label. From 1959 to 1962, Albers created seven designs for Command Records—Provocative Percussion I, II, and III; Persuasive Percussion Iand III; Pictures at an Exhibition; and Magnificent Two-Piano Performances—all of which are included in this exhibition. Albers’s collaboration with Command, which may also have been bolstered by him having taught the label’s cofounder Enoch Light’s daughter at Black Mountain College, is a rare example of the artist’s commercial work. With energetic compositions employing variations on Albers’s signature geometric elements including squares, circles, and grids, the album covers give unique visual expression to the musical scores they contained.

Interaction of Color "places practice before theory, which after all, is the conclusion of practice.… Just as the knowledge of acoustics does not make one musical—neither on the productive nor on the appreciative side—so no color system by itself can develop one’s sensitivity for color. This is parallel to the recognition that no theory of composition by itself leads to the production of music, or of art." —Josef Albers in Interaction of Color, his seminal text conceived as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, instructors, and students that was originally published by Yale University Press in 1963

A painting by Josef Albers, titled Variant/Adobe, dated 1956.

Josef Albers

Variant/Adobe, 1956
Oil on Masonite
15 7/8 x 30 3/8 inches (40.3 x 77.2 cm) Framed: 16 3/4 x 31 1/8 inches (42.5 x 79.1 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Variant/Adobe, dated 1962.

Josef Albers

Variant/Adobe, 1962
Oil on Masonite
15 x 30 inches (38.1 x 76.2 cm) Framed: 16 5/8 x 31 1/8 inches (42.2 x 79.1 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Variant/Adobe, dated 1962.

Josef Albers

Variant/Adobe, 1962
Oil on Masonite
15 x 30 inches (38.1 x 76.2 cm) Framed: 16 5/8 x 30 7/8 inches (42.2 x 78.4 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Homage to the Square, dated 1958.

Josef Albers

Homage to the Square, 1958
Oil on Masonite
16 x 16 inches (40.6 x 40.6 cm) Framed: 16 5/8 x 16 5/8 inches (42.2 x 42.2)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Homage to the Square, dated 1966.

Josef Albers

Homage to the Square, 1966
Oil on Masonite
48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm) Framed: 48 5/8 x 48 5/8 inches (123.5 x 123.5)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Homage to the Square, dated 1954.

Josef Albers

Homage to the Square, 1954
Oil on Masonite
12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm) Framed: 20 1/8 x 20 3/8 inches (51.1 x 51.8 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Study for Homage to the Square, dated 1964.

Josef Albers

Study for Homage to the Square, 1964
Oil on Masonite
24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm) Framed: 24 1/2 x 24 5/8 inches (62.2 x 62.5 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Homage to the Square, dated 1961.

Josef Albers

Homage to the Square, 1961
Oil on aluminum
20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm) Framed: 20 1/8 x 20 1/8 inches (51.1 x 51.1 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Study for Homage to the Square, dated 1967

Josef Albers

Study for Homage to the Square, 1967
Oil on Masonite
24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm) Framed: 24 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches (61.6 x 61.6 cm)
A panting by Josef Albers, titled Study for Homage to the Square: Tender Start, dated 1959.

Josef Albers

Study for Homage to the Square: Tender Start, 1959
Oil on Masonite
40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm) Framed: 40 1/2 x 40 1/2 inches (102.9 x 102.9)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Study for Homage to the Square, dated 1967.

Josef Albers

Study for Homage to the Square, 1967
Oil on Masonite
18 x 18 inches (45.7 x 45.7 cm) Framed: 18 3/4 x 18 3/4 inches (47.6 x 47.6)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Homage to the Square, undated.

Josef Albers

Homage to the Square, n.d.
Oil on Masonite
15 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches (40 x 40 cm) Framed: 16 5/8 x 16 5/8 inches (42.2 x 42.2 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation, undated.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation, n.d.
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 1/8 x 22 1/8 inches (43.5 x 56.2 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation P-3, dated 1954.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation P-3, 1954
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 1/8 x 22 1/8 inches (43.5 x 56.2 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation O-7, dated 1954.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation O-7, 1954
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 x 22 1/2 inches (43.2 x 57.2 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation, undated.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation, n.d.
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 1/8 x 22 5/8 inches (43.5 x 57.5 cm)
An untitled painting on a wooden Victrola gramophone lid by Josef Albers, dated 1940 to 1941.

Josef Albers

Untitled, 1940-1941
Oil on wooden Victrola gramophone lid
14 x 12 inches (35.6 x 30.5 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Homage to the Square: Tap Root, dated 1965.

Josef Albers

Homage to the Square: Tap Root, 1965
Oil on Masonite
40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm) Framed: 40 1/2 x 40 5/8 inches (102.9 x 103.2 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Study for Homage to the Square: Night Sound, dated 1968

Josef Albers

Study for Homage to the Square: Night Sound, 1968
Oil on Masonite
40 x 40 inches (101.6 x 101.6 cm) Framed: 40 1/2 x 40 1/2 inches (102.9 x 102.9 cm)
A sandblasted flashed glass work with black paint by Josef Albers, titled Fuge (Fugue), circa 1926.

Josef Albers

Fuge (Fugue), c. 1926
Sandblasted flashed glass with black paint
9 3/4 x 25 7/8 inches (24.7 x 65.7 cm) Framed: 10 x 26 1/8 inches (25.4 x 66.4 cm)
A sandblasted transparent flashed glass work with black paint by Josef Albers, titled Gebündelt (Bundled), dated 1925.

Josef Albers

Gebündelt (Bundled), 1925
Sandblasted transparent flashed glass with black paint
12 3/4 x 12 1/4 inches (32.4 x 31.1 cm) Framed: 18 3/8 x 18 3/4 inches (46.7 x 47.6 cm)
A sandblasted opaque flashed glass work by Josef Albers, titled Klaviaturen (Keyboards), dated 1932.

Josef Albers

Klaviaturen (Keyboards), 1932
Sandblasted opaque flashed glass
14 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches (37.4 x 64.7 cm) Framed: 15 x 25 3/4 inches (38.1 x 65.4)
A sandblasted flashed glass work by Josef Albers, titled Treble Clef (G-Clef/Diskant VII), circa 1932.

Josef Albers

Treble Clef (G-Clef/Diskant VII), c. 1932
Sandblasted opaque flashed glass
29 3/4 x 17 3/8 inches (75.5 x 44.1 cm) Framed: 30 3/8 x 17 7/8 inches (77.2 x 45.4 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Study for Homage to the Square: Autumn Sound, dated 1962.

Josef Albers

Study for Homage to the Square: Autumn Sound, 1962
Oil on Masonite
18 x 18 inches (45.7 x 45.7 cm) Framed: 18 5/8 x 18 5/8 inches (47.3 x 47.3 cm)
A screenprint on paper by Josef Albers, titled Allegro, dated 1961.

Josef Albers

Allegro, 1961
Screenprint on paper
Image: 9 x 9 inches (22.9 x 22.9 cm) Sheet: 17 x 17 inches (43.2 x 43.2 cm) Framed: 19 1/8 x 19 1/8 inches (48.6 x 48.6 cm)
A painting on paper by Josef Albers, titled Variant/Adobe, dated 1947.

Josef Albers

Variant/Adobe, 1947
Oil on blotting paper
16 3/4 x 23 1/2 inches (42.5 x 59.6 cm) Framed: 21 1/2 x 28 3/8 inches (54.6 x 72.1 cm)
Mixed media on paper by Josef Albers, titled Color study for a Variant/Adobe, circa 1947.

Josef Albers

Color study for a Variant/Adobe, c. 1947
Oil and pencil on blotting paper
9 3/8 x 8 5/8 inches (23.8 x 21.9 cm) Framed: 13 5/8 x 13 x 1 3/8 inches (34.6 x 33 cm)
Mixed media on paper by Josef Albers, titled Color study for a Variant/Adobe, circa 1947.

Josef Albers

Color study for a Variant/Adobe, c. 1947
Oil and pencil on blotting paper
9 1/2 x 12 inches (24.1 x 30.5 cm) Framed: 13 5/8 x 16 1/8 x 1 1/2 inches (34.6 x 41 cm)
A painting on paper by Josef Albers, titled Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, circa 1970.

Josef Albers

Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, c. 1970
Oil on blotting paper
12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm) Framed: 16 1/4 x 16 1/8 inches (41.3 x 41 cm)
A painting on paper by Josef Albers, titled Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, circa 1970.

Josef Albers

Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, c. 1970
Oil on blotting paper
12 x 13 inches (30.5 x 33 cm) Framed: 16 1/8 x 17 1/4 inches (41 x 43.8 cm)
A painting on paper by Josef Albers, titled Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, circa 1970.

Josef Albers

Study for screenprint EK (Edition Keller) If, c. 1970
Oil on blotting paper
11 7/8 x 13 1/8 inches (30.4 x 33.3 cm) Framed: 16 1/8 x 17 1/8 x 1 3/8 inches (41 x 43.5 cm)
A painting by Josef Albers, titled Double Homage to the Square, dated 1957.

Josef Albers

Double Homage to the Square, 1957
Oil on Masonite
16 x 31 inches (40.6 x 78.7 cm) Framed: 16 3/4 x 31 5/8 inches (42.5 x 80.3 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation, undated.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation, n.d.
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 1/8 x 22 5/8 inches (43.5 x 57.5 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation M-9, dated 1954.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation M-9, 1954
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 x 22 1/2 inches (43.2 x 57.2 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation, circa 1950.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation, c. 1950
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 1/8 x 22 1/2 x 7/8 inches (43.5 x 57.2 cm)
A machine-engraved etching in plastic laminate on wood by Josef Albers, titled ‚ÄãStructural Constellation, circa 1950.

Josef Albers

Structural Constellation, c. 1950
Machine-engraved plastic laminate mounted on wood
17 x 22 1/2 x 7/8 inches (43.2 x 57.2 cm)
A gouache and graphite work on paper by Josef Albers, titled Treble Clef G b, dated 1932 to 1935.

Josef Albers

Treble Clef G b, 1932-1935
Gouache and graphite on paper
15 x 10 3/8 inches (38.1 x 26.4 cm) Framed: 22 7/8 x 16 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches (58.1 x 41.9 x 3.8 cm)
A gouache and graphite work on paper by Josef Albers, titled Treble Clef G i, dated 1932 to 1935.

Josef Albers

Treble Clef G i, 1932-1935
Gouache and graphite on paper
14 7/8 x 10 1/2 inches (37.8 x 26.7 cm) Framed: 22 7/8 x 16 1/2 inches (58.1 x 41.9 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Pictures at Exhibition / Mussorgsky-Ravel, dated 1961.

Josef Albers

Pictures at Exhibition / Mussorgsky-Ravel, 1961
Offset printed record album jacket
12 1/4 x 12 5/8 inches (31.1 x 32 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Provocative Percussion, dated 1959.

Josef Albers

Provocative Percussion, 1959
Offset printed record album jacket
12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Provocative Percussion, Volume 2, dated 1959.

Josef Albers

Provocative Percussion, Volume 2, 1959
Offset printed record album jacket
12 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches (31.1 x 31.1 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Persuasive Percussion, Volume 3, dated 1959.

Josef Albers

Persuasive Percussion, Volume 3, 1959
Offset printed record album jacket
12 3/8 x 12 3/8 inches (31.4 x 31.4 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Leonid Hambro and Jascha Zayde / Magnificent Two-Piano Performances, dated 1961

Josef Albers

Leonid Hambro and Jascha Zayde / Magnificent Two-Piano Performances, 1961
Offset printed record album jacket
12 5/8 x 12 1/2 inches (32 x 31.7 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Persuasive Percussion, dated 1959.

Josef Albers

Persuasive Percussion, 1959
Offset printed record album jacket
12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm)
An offset printed record album jacket by Josef Albers. Album titled Provocative Percussion, Volume 3, dated 1959.

Josef Albers

Provocative Percussion, Volume 3, 1959
Offset printed record album jacket
12 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches (31.1 x 31.1 cm)
An offset printed mailing on wove paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, dated 1957 to 1958.

Josef and Anni Albers

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, 1957-1958
Offset print on heavy wove paper with deckle edge
4 1/4 x 5 1/8 inches (10.8 x 13 cm)
An offset printed mailing on wove paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, dated 1958 to 1959.

Josef and Anni Albers

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, 1958-1959
Offset print on heavy wove paper
4 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches (10.8 x 14 cm)
An offset printed mailing on wove paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, dated 1958 to 1959.

Josef and Anni Albers

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, 1958-1959
Offset print on heavy wove paper
4 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches (10.8 x 14 cm)
An offset printed mailing on wove paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Happy Christmas and Happy New Year, dated 1959 to 1960.

Josef and Anni Albers

Happy Christmas Happy New Year, 1959-1960
Offset print on heavy wove paper
4 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches (10.8 x 14 cm)
A periodical, titled The Structurist No. 4, dated 1964.

Josef and Anni Albers

No. 4, 1964
Periodical
10 7/8 x 8 1/8 inches (27.6 x 20.6 cm)
An offset printed mailing on coated paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, dated 1954.

Josef and Anni Albers

Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, 1954
Offset print on coated paper
8 1/8 x 5 3/8 inches (20.6 x 13.7 cm)
An offset printed mailing on coated paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, dated 1953.

Josef and Anni Albers

Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, 1953
Offset print on coated paper
8 1/8 x 5 3/8 inches (20.6 x 13.7 cm)
An offset printed mailing on wove paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, dated 1952.

Josef and Anni Albers

Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, 1952
Offset print on heavy wove paper
8 1/4 x 6 1/8 inches (21.1 x 15.4 cm)
An offset printed mailing on wove paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, dated 1951.

Josef and Anni Albers

Best Wishes for Christmas and the New Year, 1951
Offset print on heavy wove paper
8 1/2 x 5 3/8 inches (21.7 x 13.8 cm)
An offset printed mailing on coated paper by Josef and Anni Albers, titled With Best Wishes for Christmas, dated 1950.

Josef and Anni Albers

With Best Wishes for Christmas, 1950
Offset print on coated paper
8 7/8 x 6 1/8 inches (22.5 x 15.6 cm)

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