Josef Albers exhibition explores how colors are perceived

Josef Albers, Folder IV-1
Josef Albers, Folder IV-1

The art exhibition Josef Albers and the Interaction of Color at Sweet Briar College Pannell Art Gallery showcases a collection of original silkscreen prints produced by Josef Albers for the book Interaction of Color which is in the college’s permanent collection. The opening reception will be held on Jan. 30 from 5:30 – 7 p.m., and the exhibition is on view through June 15.

The book, composed of 150 silkscreen images, was first published in 1963 by Yale University Press. Interaction of Color is a manifestation of Albers’ passion for exploring how colors work scientifically, subjectively and subconsciously. Albers developed the color series while teaching at the Yale University Art School. He posed a series of questions to his students, and they responded by creating collages out of colored paper. The collages became the color blocks in the collection.

In some of the color studies, there are separate pieces of paper that are meant to be moved around to create color reactions or interactions. His work encourages exploration, interaction and discovery. In the book’s introduction, Albers writes, “In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is—as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” Albers draws in viewers with bold colors and intriguing patterns and teaches them how to engage with what they see.

The exhibition is designed to feel like one is walking through an open book. The interactive element of Albers’ work with his students is carried through with the availability of iPads where visitors can use an app designed by Yale to move color blocks, as though they are working with paper cutouts in the classroom. Plus, a video will be playing in the gallery that showcases the intended interactivity of the artwork, demonstrated by student gallery assistants.

In the spirit of Albers being a proponent of collaboration, there will be many complementary events and presentations by Sweet Briar students and faculty held in conjunction with the exhibition. Bryanna Ortega ’22 is writing about Albers’ teaching at Black Mountain College. Arden Csaplar ’21 will explain the delicate steps necessary for preserving the silkscreen pieces. Music from the Modernist Movement will be performed by the student ensemble Daisy’s Harp, led by Professor Josh Harris. Professors Ella and Mark Magruder will bring dancers into the gallery for a performance based on “Chance,” the choreographic technique employed by the famous dancer Merce Cunningham. Finally, Professor Annie Labatt will speak about the history of color theory and perception, ranging from the medieval period to the work of contemporary colorists like Elsworth Kelly.