American Art of Our Century

By Lloyd Goodrich; John I. H. Baur | Go to book overview
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24 formal abstraction: painting

Geometrical abstraction, with its long and austere tradition in Europe, has not been a widespread movement on this side of the Atlantic. One of its leading practitioners, Josef Albers, was European trained. A few of our native painters have adhered as rigorously as Albers to the standards of a purely formal art, but the majority of those at all influenced by the style have tended to endow it with more romantic feeling and content than it ever had abroad--which, in itself, is not an inconsiderable achievement.

At the German Bauhaus, where Albers worked during the 1920's and early 1930's, there persisted the still radical concept (inherited from cubism, suprematism, and Mondrian's neoplasticism) of an art built exclusively on formal relations, an art freed from representation, devoid of associations, and depending solely on the interaction of form and color for its effect. When Albers moved to America, in 1933, the first of the Bauhaus refugees to reach here, he became an influential spokesman for this philosophy. In his own work, his writing and teaching, he has adhered to its strictest interpretation, often limiting his forms to the simplest of shapes (as in his Homage to the Square series) and his colors to pure, unmodulated hues, used its they come from the tube. The sense of absolute "rightness" in the choice and adjustment of these elements is, of course, the result of a long and painstaking process which involves primarily a study of what colors do to each other and what they do to form--giving it motion, contracting, expanding, rising, falling, advancing, or retreating. These relations are adjusted by Albers to a hairline poise which is both dynamic and serene. Although this is all aesthetic process, it is infinitely more than a decorative one, for it creates a paradigm of that precise point of balance be


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