Homage to the Square: Soaring was acquired by Theodore and Barbara Dreier in 1960, the year after it was made, from the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. It has remained in the family since. The work was included in the gallery’s exhibition of Homage to the Square paintings held at the end of 1959 (Albers: Homage to the Square, November 30–December 26, 1959).
The title Homage to the Square: Soaring is a playful nod to Josef Albers’s use of brilliant cerulean pigment, which carries tremendous weight, viscosity, and density, and—in a work of this size and composition—creates the sensation of soaring up into the blue firmament of the painting.
Installation view, Josef Albers in Mexico, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017. Photos by David Heald
“His new show bears out that he is one of the best of our easel painters,” observed The New Yorker in its coverage of the Sidney Janis exhibition. “His series, Homage to the Square, established a classic form for his explorations in color. ‘Squares within squares’ does not describe them: the ambiguity of whether the squares are overlays, or concentric frames around a four-cornered theme, is a part of what sets the pictures breathing, as leaves breath [sic].”
Albers began working on the Homage to the Square paintings in 1950, treating each one as a kind of experiment. He would use a palette knife rather than a brush and, with one or two exceptions, never mixed his colors. He would layer the paint on, controlling the pace as well as the weight, thickness, and transparency of the color.
Installation view, Josef Albers: Grey Steps, Grey Scales, Grey Ladders, David Zwirner New York, 2016
Installation view, Josef Albers: Sunny Side Up, David Zwirner London, 2017
Albers’s unique approach to color theory was key to his classes at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Theodore Dreier—whom Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius considered to be “the heart and soul” of Black Mountain—invited Josef to teach there in 1933, after the Alberses left the Bauhaus. Accepting Dreier’s invitation to join the newly established school, Albers described his mission there as “to open eyes.”
Black Mountain College, North Carolina, 1940–1941. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Asheville, NC
Black Mountain College, Lee Hall, Blue Ridge Campus, 1938. © Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, States Archives of North Carolina
Summer Arts Institute Faculty, Black Mountain College, 1946. Left to right: Leo Amino, Jacob Lawrence, Leo Lionni, Ted Dreier, Nora Lionni, Beaumont Newhall, Gwendolyn Lawrence, Ise Gropius, Jean Varda (in tree), Nancy Newhall (sitting), Walter Gropius, Mary “Molly” Gregory, Josef Albers, Anni Albers. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives
Josef Albers teaching at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, c. 1946
Josef and Anni Albers and Theodore (Ted) and Barbara (Bobbie) Dreier were kindred spirits. They took advantage of summer vacations, traveling together and bringing their impressions back to Black Mountain College.
Significant related works include Homage to the Square: Red Brass (1961), a similarly colored forty-by-forty inch Homage, in the collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri. A smaller eighteen-by-eighteen inch work, Homage to the Square: Late Reminder (1953), featuring turquoise rather than cerulean, is in the collection of the Portland Art Museum, Oregon.
Click here to view a historic selection of prints by Josef Albers from the Dreier collection.
Portrait of Theodore Dreier, May 1941 (Black Mountain College faculty). Photo by Robert Haas.
Courtesy of Western Regional Archives
Clara Porset, Ted Dreier, Bobbie Dreier, and Anni Albers, Cuba, 1934–35. Photo by Josef Albers. The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 1976.7.1146. © 2020 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In 1934, the four friends visited Cuba. In the coming years, the Alberses went to Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Acapulco, and visited the sites of Monte Albán, Mitla, and Teotihuacan. On many occasions, the Dreiers joined them.
Homage to the Square: Soaring (1959) will be included in the Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings of Josef Albers, 1914–1976, currently being prepared by The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and is registered under the number 1959.1.93.
Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: Soaring, 1959 (detail)