Albers accepted an offer to lead the art program at Black Mountain College after immigrating to the United States with his wife, Anni, in 1933. Upon meeting Albers at Black Mountain in 1948, Cage recognized an affinity between the artist’s disciplined union of form and function and his own quest to engage: “Both the mind and structure delight in precision, clarity and the observance of rules. Whereas, form wants only freedom to be; it belongs to the heart.”
Following a sixteen-year absence from printmaking, Albers again embraced the medium, creating woodcuts that more strongly relied upon chance and free association than the precise abstractions for which he is best known. Throughout the mid–1940s Albers experimented with printing surfaces—wood, linoleum, and cork—developing relief prints in which the natural grains of his chosen materials became key elements of the composition.
Gallery label from There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4’33”, October 12, 2013–June 22, 2014.
Elementary-school teacher Josef Albers began his study of art in 1908 and first experimented with printmaking in 1915. By the time of his death, he had made more than two hundred prints in a wide variety of mediums, and had influenced generations of students in both Europe and the United States through his teachings. Beginning in 1920, Albers spent thirteen years at the Bauhaus, the famed German design school, rising through the ranks from student to assistant director. The school instilled in Albers a deep appreciation for, and concern with, technical achievement and sophistication, as well as a lifelong interest in exploring abstraction.
Under mounting pressure from the Nazis, the Bauhaus closed in 1933, and Albers accepted an offer to teach in Asheville, North Carolina, at Black Mountain College, a newly founded experimental institution. There he returned to printmaking, an activity he had neglected at the Bauhaus, with a series of woodcuts including Tlaloc, named for a Mexican rain god and inspired by one of Albers's many trips to Latin America.
The year 1950 marked a new phase in Albers's career: he began teaching at Yale University and also started his best-known work, the series Homage to the Square, a seemingly endless exploration of the effects of color through nested squares in various tonal themes and combinations. Translating the Homage paintings to prints presented a new set of technical challenges in terms of color mixing, execution, and registration that piqued Albers's interest. The portfolio Homage to the Square: Ten Works by Josef Albers was the first of many printed manifestations of this theme, which Albers worked on at Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Gemini G.E.L., and Tyler Graphics until the end of his life.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 190.