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Josef Albers: Primary Colors

18 January 2022 - 6 March 2022



David Zwirner is pleased to present Primary Colors, an exhibition of work by Josef Albers (1888–1976). On view at the gallery’s Hong Kong location, this will be the first solo presentation of Albers’s work in Greater China. Curated by Brenda Danilowitz, chief curator of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, the show is a focused examination of how the primary colors red, yellow, and blue, along with black, encompassed an infinite range of chromatic possibilities for Albers, which he explored throughout his career in stunning combinations presented in his signature visual formats. The exhibition coincides with a major retrospective exhibition of Albers’s and his wife and fellow artist Anni Albers’s art at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (IVAM), Valencia, Spain, which debuted at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris in 2021.

Josef Albers is considered one of the most influential abstract painters of the twentieth century as well as an important designer and educator. Albers’s artistic career, which bridged European and American modernism, consisted mainly of a tightly focused investigation into the perceptual properties of color and spatial relationships. Working with simple geometric forms, Albers sought to produce the effects of chromatic interaction, in which the visual perception of a color is affected by those adjacent to it. Albers’s precise application of color also created plays of space and depth, as the planar colored shapes that make up the majority of his works appear to either recede into or protrude out of the picture plane.

This exhibition will feature works by Albers from as early as the 1930s, a transitional period for the artist when he and Anni Albers immigrated to North Carolina, where they founded the art department at the famous Black Mountain College, and extending all the way to works he made shortly before his death in 1976. On view will be several paintings from Albers’s Homage to the Square series, his most celebrated body of work. These paintings were based on a nested square format that allowed Albers to experiment with endless chromatic combinations and perceptual effects.


Josef Albers (1888–1976) was born in Bottrop, Germany, and studied briefly at the Königliche Bayerische Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich, in 1919 before becoming a student at the Weimar Bauhaus in 1920. In 1922, Albers joined the school’s faculty, first working in stained glass and, starting in 1923, teaching design. During his time at Black Mountain College, Albers began to show his work extensively within the United States, including solo exhibitions at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover (1935); J. B. Neumann’s New Art Circle, New York (1936, 1938); The Germanic Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge (1936); Katharine Kuh Gallery, Chicago (1937); San Francisco Museum of Art (1940); and the Nierendorf Gallery, New York (1941). The Alberses remained at Black Mountain until 1949 and in 1950 moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where Josef Albers was invited to direct a newly formed department of design at Yale University School of Art. In 1950, too, he developed what would become his seminal Homage to the Square series, which he continued to elaborate until his death in 1976. This body of work was featured in a major exhibition organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1964 that traveled to twenty-two venues in the United States and Latin America.

Albers retired from teaching in 1958, a few years prior to the publication of his important text Interaction of Color (1963), which was reissued in two volumes in 2013. Following numerous gallery and museum exhibitions, as well as his participation in documenta 1 (1955) and documenta 4 (1968), Albers became the first living artist to be the subject of a solo exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with his career-spanning retrospective there in 1971.


18 January 2022
6 March 2022
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