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JOSEF ALBERS

: leading students to a greater awareness of what they were seeing.

The teacher: To Open Eyes

Josef Albers believed that teaching art was not a matter of imparting rules, styles, or techniques, but of leading students to a greater awareness of what they were seeing. Albers said his goal as a teacher was "to open eyes." For Albers, the fundamental building block of an art education was development of the capacity to see more acutely. You can’t be an artist, Albers reasoned, unless and until you’d mindfully explored the visual field through its key elements: line, shape, color, and texture.


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Josef’s encounters with the ruins of Mexico deepened his interest in photography and advanced his experiments in abstract art. He took thousands of pictures on his travels, later combining many of these images to produce photocollages with grid-like compositions. This body of work illuminates the indelible impact Josef’s time in Mexico had on his larger practice. The heavily ornamented facades of pre-Columbian structures sparked new formal explorations, and the colors of the natural landscape and built environment informed the palette of his paintings, including his Variant/Adobe series (1946–66) and his Homages to the Square(1950–76).

On his first trip to Mexico, in 1935, Josef Albers encountered the magnificent architecture of ancient Mesoamerica. He later wrote to Kandinsky, ‘Mexico is truly the promised land of abstract art.’ Josef Albers and his wife Anni visited Mexico and other Latin American countries nearly a dozen times between 1935 and ’67. This exhibition brings together photographs and photo collages from those travels, from the Guggenheim’s collection and various lenders. Many of these works have never been exhibited publicly before. They suggest that the artist’s abstract canvases may have been influenced by pre-Columbian motifs and monuments.