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Art Museum Unveils Exhibit Featuring Work of German Professor and Color Theorist Josef Albers

The Art Museum of the University of Memphis (AMUM) unveiled its newest exhibition this past Sunday–Opening Eyes, a collection of the works Homage to the Square and Variants by artist Josef Albers, plus works by his colleagues, and wife, Anni Albers.

Born in 1888, Josef Albers was an instructor at the Weimar Bauhaus school from 1922 until 1933, when the Nazi regime closed the school and many of the faculty, including Josef and his wife, Anni, fled Germany to other countries. After moving to the United States, the Albers assumed teaching positions at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There, Albers would reveal what his mission as an instructor was to one of his students–"to make open their eyes," his first words in English.

Central to the works is color. Albers was fascinated with color and how it interacted, but not in any formulaic or scientific way. On one of the museum's walls is a quote from Albers' book, Interaction of Color, detailing his views on color, which minimizes the scientific theory of color in favor of a more visual, subjective perspective.

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"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. In order to use color effectively, it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually. To this end, the beginning is not a study of color systems."

Both Homage to the Square and Variants are studies of color and showcase how the colors in the works interact. Most of the pieces in both series are screen prints, or serigraphs, as Albers viewed screen printing as a medium most fitting of his views on color and color interaction.

For the museum's media director, Caleb Stokes, the exhibition isn't just an exploration of Alber's ideas, it is also a tribute to Albers' career and work.

"Opening Eyes is somewhat of a memorial for Josef Albers. It is respecting his hard work in color theory and other things. But, it is also to showcase the hard work that his colleagues and others close to him, like family or friends, have done to also represent the hard work he's done, or represent their own coming to the art world," Stokes said.

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This color theory can also be seen in the Crone Gallery, where a selection of works created by Albers' colleagues and students are also displayed, each of them made with Albers' original mission in mind, "to make open their eyes."

For the museum's assistant director, Adriana Dunn, this exhibition is very much born from Albers' original mission.

"Opening Eyes is a quote directly from Josef Albers. One of his very first students asked him, 'What do you hope to accomplish teaching art?' He said very earnestly and honestly, 'I want students to open their eyes,' and that's how we got the idea for Opening Eyes, of Albers and who he was as an artist," Dunn said.

Dunn's goal, alongside the rest of the museum staff, isn't just to exhibit the work of Josef Albers but also for students at the University of Memphis to open their eyes, just like Albers intended.

Opening Eyes is on display until Dec. 17.

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