Fantasy Pick #12: Albers

I’m playing “Fantasy Art Collection,” inspired by games like Fantasy Baseball. Go to the main page to get the idea.

Fantasy Art Collection pick #12

I started off the new year with 2 resolutions—to install a working fire alarm in my apartment and go to Orlando. I guess sitting on a balcony in Orlando right now makes the new fire alarm seem unnecessary, but I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the new year, so I’m buying 2 Josef Albers paintings. (kidding about Orlando, I’m here for work).


When I was a young art student my dad and I spent a Thanksgiving in NYC so I could interview for painting apprenticeships. Once the stress was out of the way, we went to the Guggenheim to see the Claes Oldenberg retrospective. I knew how to draw, but I didn’t know much about art yet—Matisse was still my greatest inspiration. But Claes made a huge impression on me. Art could be fun, funny, cool, pop? sweet.

We wandered around the museum shop afterwards and my eyes zeroed in on a t-shirt of this yellow Albers painting on the left. I’d never heard of Albers, but I loved the image so much, I bought it with all the money I had. Within the hour I left it on the subway and was terribly sad about it. Of course in the large scheme of things it’s a silly thing to be “terribly sad” about, but my dad sensed the mysterious importance of it to me and bought me a new one to replace my new one. It was important to him because it was important to me, and I wore the Albers for a year without knowing anything about him (pre-Google). I finally found out what I’d been advertising when I took my first color theory class in 1996—still my favorite class I’ve ever taken, and taught many years later.


Albers had been off my radar for a while until I went to the DeKooning show last year and started thinking long and hard about abstraction. I realized that ‘I tend to write off a lot of abstract art because I’m impatient, and more interested in art that reflects an experience of the world rather than an experience of paint’. I tend to like either representational or abstract because I’m frustrated by the grey. I like one or the other—I’m extreme.

But I love Albers’ paintings for the same reason I’ve always loved the work of Robert Irwin—it’s about perception.

I love the Homage to the Square paintings because they’re so abstract, they reflect an intense experience of the world—more so than any work in my collection so far. They never look the same to me, and I’m amazed by how color changes the way I see and experience space. Albers formal exploration of this phenomenon is exactly how I see the passing moments I study with the video camera and make art about.

Albers gets my first “between mediums artist award” of 2012 because he was a designer, photographer, typographer, printmaker, painter, poet and educator, influencing so many artists throughout his life as a professor at the Bauhaus, Black Mountain College and Yale.

But what I love about these paintings is the beauty in their simplicity. Like the quickly passing moments in life that I try so hard to capture and slow down with my camera in order to see them, these paintings remind me to stop, take a breath and look at the basics—the foundation that makes everything else possible.

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