A detail from a painting by Josef Albers, titled City, dated 1928/1936.
Josef Albers
A portrait of Josef Albers teaching at Black mountain College, North Carolina, in the 1940s.

Josef Albers teaching, Black Mountain College, North Carolina, c. 1948

Josef Albers teaching, Black Mountain College, North Carolina, c. 1948

Josef Albers (1888–1976) is considered one of the most influential abstract painters of the twentieth century, as well as an important designer and educator. Bridging European and American modernism, his oeuvre comprises a tightly focused investigation into the perceptual properties of color and spatial relationships. Working with simple geometric forms, Albers explored the effects of chromatic interaction in which the visual perception of a color is affected by those adjacent to it.

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A painting by Josef Albers, titled City, dated from 1928/1936

Josef Albers

City, 1928/1936
Tempera on Masonite in artist’s frame
11 x 21 1/2 inches
27.9 x 54.6 cm
Artist’s frame: 22 1/8 x 43 1/4 inches
56.2 x 109.9 cm  
A portrait of Josef Albers at the Bauhaus.

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) and Josef Albers, J.A. / Foto Umbo 28, 1928 (detail)

Umbo (Otto Umbehr) and Josef Albers, J.A. / Foto Umbo 28, 1928 (detail)

Made in 1936, after Albers had moved to the United States to teach at Black Mountain College, this work revisits City, a damaged glasswork made in Germany eight years earlier, when Albers was at the Bauhaus.

The artist’s stencil and sandblasting technique lend his glassworks a distinctive clarity and immediacy that translates into the crisp geometry of painting. This is one of the only paintings of its kind created by the artist as a historical record of a significant Bauhaus-era composition.

An installation view of glass works by Josef Albers installed at the Bauhaus in the 1930s.

Installation view, Josef Albers: Glasbilder, Bauhaus, Dessau, 1932. Photo by Josef Albers. The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 1976.19.6389. © 2020 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Installation view, Josef Albers: Glasbilder, Bauhaus, Dessau, 1932. Photo by Josef Albers. The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 1976.19.6389. © 2020 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

A photo of the Bauhaus in Germany.

Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany

Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany

This rhythmic abstract arrangement also served as the basis for Manhattan, a monumental mural commissioned in 1963 by Walter Gropius for the Pan Am building in New York, now best known as the MetLife building, which was recently reinstalled.

As Nicholas Fox Weber, the executive director of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, writes, “Manhattan was designed to be seen on the move as commuters traveled up and down the bank of highspeed escalators leading to Grand Central—what Albers called a portal to New York. For him, the project was not just an opportunity to represent the Bauhaus ideals on a grand scale, but a chance to celebrate New York, emboldened by its vital energy, visual pleasures and growing forest of skyscrapers.”

Albers once described the mural as “my homage to the city of New York.”

A photo of a mural by Josef Albers, titled Manhattan, installed over the escalators at the PanAm Building in New York in the 1960s now known as the MetLife Building.

Josef Albers, Manhattan, 1963. Pan Am Building, New York City. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Josef Albers, Manhattan, 1963. Pan Am Building, New York City. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A photo of a mural by Josef Albers, titled Manhattan, installed over the escalators at the MetLife Building in New York.

Josef Albers, Manhattan, 1963. Recreated for 200 Park Avenue, New York, 2019. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Photo by J. Alex Lan

Josef Albers, Manhattan, 1963. Recreated for 200 Park Avenue, New York, 2019. Courtesy The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Photo by J. Alex Lan

Image credit for Umbo (Otto Umbehr) and Josef Albers, J.A. / Foto Umbo 28, 1928 (detail): The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 1976.7.1106. Image © 2020 Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/VG Bild-Kunst, BonnCollage. © 2020 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Tim Nighswander/Imaging4Art


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