January 18, 2017

Joseph Albers in Mexico

Joseph Albers, one of the founders of Bauhaus and of Black Mountain College, was an enthusiastic photographer. He traveled to Mexico and shoot his camera amid archeological ruins. 

A selection of his photographs was published by the MoMA in 1987 (and republished last year) under the title The Photographs of Josef Albers. A Selection From The Collection of The Josef Albers Foundation, following an exhibition.

Mexico made a deep impression on him. 'Mexico,' he wrote in amazement to Kandinsky, 'is truly the promised land of abstract art.'

On this regards, The Albers Foundation tells this story:

"He might have been thinking of Modernist painters such as Carlos Mérida, say, but he wasn't. What the couple had found in Mexico was an abstraction far older and, to their minds, more modern. Driving to an Aztec site, they had been stopped by a boy selling a turkey wrapped in a blanket. Anni, typically, ignored the bird for the fabric. Then the boy took some fragments from a bag—pre-Columbian pottery figures, maybe dating from the time of Christ. They were the kind of object that had been made in their millions in Mexico, and for hundreds of years; things you could find buried in any field.

Josef and Anni were transfixed. Part of the Bauhaus project had been to eliminate the ego in art, the whole cult of originality. In a time of mechanical reproduction and the aesthetic it shaped, signatures and authorship were decadent luxuries. What mattered was to make objects that anyone could use, and that everyone would want to—to find a universal language of art, made up of shapes and forms and colours. Here, in Mexico, was a civilisation quite literally built on these things. Looking at the anonymous work of an indigenous artist, Anni breathed: 'We're not alone any more.'"

I remember seeing at least two paintings by Josef Albers in Casa Barragán. One is leaning on a table, the other one next to a big window and already damaged by the sun.

Josef Albers, Monte Albán, Mexico, ca. 1939 

Josef Albers, Quetzalcoatl Monument, Calixtlahuaca, no date

Photos: © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany 1976

Josef Albers in Luis Barragán's private home (photographer unknown)

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