[November 10 2017]
Josef Albers is best remembered as an abstract painter, theorist and meticulous scholar of the colour spectrum. But the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition of Josef Albers in Mexico hammers it home that beyond Bauhaus-meets-Constructivism there was an ancient Mesoamerican influence shaping his creative agenda. Between 1935 and 1967 Albers and his wife Annie visited Latin America more than a dozen times, of which the most elemental trips were to Mexico. He later argued that he deliberately conducted ‘independent explorations’ of these places without acknowledging their histories, and rather let his own perception fabricate a narrative about them. In fact, Albers was so taken by the architectural feat of these ancient monuments that he noted in a letter to his Bauhaus buddy Kandinsky, that Mexico is “the promised land of abstract art. For here it is already thousands of years old.” In Mexico Albers documented the archaeological locations, shrines and pyramids with his camera. Following this he created photo-collages that until now were little known, but bear testimony to his fascination with pre-colonial aesthetics. On another hand, these new revelations prompt a necessary re-evaluation of his painting series Variants/Adobe (1946-60) and Homage to The Square (1950-76).
Lauren Hinkson, the curator of the exhibition, also added that she felt responsability to reveal the photographs and address what impact Mexico had on Albers. She further added that she was baffled when she realized that Albers “ in the late 1930s was essentially doing what later Robert Smithson, Ed Reinhardt and others would do in the ‘60s and ‘70s.” Nonetheless, it is not only Albers’ advanced style that is important here, but how Mexico played an essential role in the genesis of post-modern North American art.
Josef Albers in Mexico is on view until 18th February, 2018 at Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave,10128 New York.
Text Kinga Rajzak and photo Alexis Dahan