The exhibition Formulation: Articulation is a chance to look at every color differently—through the lens of an artist’s teaching exercises that show how our perceptions of colors are affected by the environments in which they are viewed. In color studies like Homage to the Square, artist and educator Josef Albers (1888-1976) demonstrates how immediate proximity changes our viewing of shades and values of color.
Albers’ teaching materials about color interactions have long been used in UVM courses. Art faculty who were students here decades ago remember borrowing the silkscreen studies for Interactions of Color (first published in 1963) from Howe Library, before the book was transferred to the Fleming Museum. Current students use Albers’ work in painting, color photography, printmaking, and other studio courses to ground their studies in his maxims—practice before theory and actual, not factual—that stress the need for close observation as the foundation of any artist’s understanding. Inspired by painters like Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), who sought to describe and codify interactions of color and sound, Albers developed these studies while teaching at the influential Bauhaus art school in Germany. Like many Bauhaus artists who were persecuted by the Nazis, he and his wife Anni Albers immigrated to the United States in 1933. He first taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and later at Yale University, where his color studies became foundational in art pedagogy.
Deepening these studies, Formulation: Articulation (first published in 1972) considers more examples of “perceptual ambiguities,” in which two colors might initially appear to be the same, only to be revealed to be distinct based on how they interact with a clashing or complementary color. A color might also appear to pop or recede from a pattern, based on how it is articulated with surrounding colors. “Until one has the experience of knowing he is being fooled by color,” as Albers explains, “one cannot be expected to be very careful to look at things inquiringly.” He goes on to write, “Only comparison entitles one to evaluation…. I want to imbue others with my delight in the endless possibilities for new color experiences.”
Seeing color is not only about the science of perception, however; followers of Albers’ work have expanded upon these ideas to point out how understandings of color are also political and social. In exhibiting Formulation: Articulation, the Fleming Museum will supplement Albers’ color studies with artworks from its collection by artists like Glenn Ligon, Ellsworth Kelly, and David Powell. Such works can illuminate how the political and social dimensions of color inflect our lived experiences.
The exhibition was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions of Los Angeles, CA.