Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Impact of Mexico on Abstract Art: Josef Albers at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Tenayuca I by Josef Albers - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) I was mesmerized by the restrained passion of the Josef Albers in Mexico exhibition that opened today at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection here in Venice. Curated by the delightful Lauren Hickson, Associate Curator of Collections at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Hickson has organized the show to tell a riveting story of how Albers's fascination with all things pre-Columbian influenced his abstract work. The show juxtaposes Albers's art with rarely seen photos he took of archeological excavations that he and his wife, Anni, visited over a period of more than 30 years.

"Mexico is truly the promised land of abstract art." 
---Josepf Albers

Josef Albers was born into a Roman Catholic family in Germany in 1888. He became a student at the innovative Bauhaus art school in 1920, then a teacher, and then a professor. In 1925, he married Anni Fleischmann, a Jewish Bauhaus student who would go on to become one of the world's most prominent textile artists.

When the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in 1933, the Albers moved to the United States, and landed in North Carolina at the experimental new school, Black Mountain College, where Josepf ran the art program, and Anni taught weaving and textile design.

Josef Albers Mitla (1956)
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
©Josef Albers, by SIAE 2018

I am familiar with that neck of the woods. When I was a child, I used to visit my grandparents in Montreat, North Carolina, a tiny town with less than 800 people, made famous by Billy Graham, two miles away from Black Mountain. I would spend hours playing in the creek in the back of their house, catching crawfish and rescuing sticks that I had personified into a family that lived on rocks surrounded by pools of water. In one of my stories, the eldest brother (the longest stick) swam out too far and got caught up in the rapids, and swept downstream. I gave him a little head start, then frantically tried to save him. I also liked to unclog the leaves from the dams the beavers built and watch the current change.

But I think it is because my grandfather was of German descent... and that peculiar German tendency to organize and compartmentalize the abstraction of life... that made the work of Josef Albers strike a deep chord and awaken long forgotten memories.

Study for Sanctuary by Josef Albers (1941-42) - Photo: Cat Bauer

"Art is creation. It can be based on, but is independent of knowledge. We can study art through nature, but art is more than nature. Art is spirit, and has a life of its own."
---Josef Albers
As Adolf Hitler was busy trying to build a new empire, archeologists in Mexico were rapidly uncovering the ruins of an ancient one. The Alberses were already familiar with pre-Columbian art before they ever arrived in America. During their first trip to Mexico in the winter of 1933-34, they were dazzled by the ruins they witnessed with their own eyes, and returned thirteen times throughout the course of their lives, taking thousands of photographs. They tapped into that ancient pre-Columbian energy and transmuted into their art.

Homage to the Square by Josef Albers (1969) Photo: Cat Bauer
Josepf Albers is best known for his Homage to the Square, a series of more than two thousand paintings which he began in 1950, at age sixty-two, and created until his death in 1976. A letter on display from Inés Amor, the founder of the Galerìa de Arte Mexicano dated June 9, 1965, sums it up:

Letter from Inés Amor to Josef Albers - Photo: Cat Bauer
Click to enlarge
An exciting new element that makes the exhibition even more dynamic is the opportunity to listen to a SoundCloud narration as you wander through the rooms. In fact, you can study up and listen to it before you go so you can get a foundation of what you will see.

Josef Albers in Mexico runs from May 19 through September 3, 2018. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. I was mesmerized by the restrained passion of the Josef Albers in Mexico exhibition that opened today at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection here in Venice.