Leadline 1994: Josef Albers: Works in Glass (Part Three)

Email by Jason Peter Brown on June 14, 2007
Categories Filed Under: REPRINTINGS, LEADLINE

Leadline 1994: Josef Albers: Works in Glass (Part Three) Image

Upward — sandblasted flashed glass with fired black glass enamel.

This is a reprinting of part three of a five part original article on Josef Albers by Doreen Balabanoff. It originally appeared in Leadline in 1994. You can read Part One here.

At this time, the glass workshop, already in existence, had been virtually deserted. A local stained glass craftsman had been employed to run the studio, but the arrangement had been unsuccessful. Albers was asked to reorganize the workshop as Journeyman, with Lionel Feininger as his Formmiester. (Each workshop had a Master of Form and a Craft Master the first for formal and theoretical instruction, the latter for technical and practical training.) Feininger was not able to meet his assignment, and was succeeded by Paul Klee. Klee left Albers "entirely free to operate the workshop, and he was permitted to use the resources of the school as he wished while working in the glass workshop."

During his second year at the Bauhaus, Albers produced, among other projects, perhaps his best-known glass piece. "Grid Mounted", composed of glass samples, cut and "bound together with fine copper wire within a heavy iron grill", is strongly suggestive of Itten's "chessboard" teaching tool, used to "free students from associations with recognizable forms". But as Finkelstein notes, " the impact of the piece lies primarily in the material… bringing together materials greatly varying in their colours, transparency and translucency and textural effects… [establishing] a variety of intervals of light and dark, creating patterns of light movement through the composition…".

Between 1922 and 1924, Albers completed several architectural glass commissions out of the workshop part of a Bauhaus strategy which aimed to raise money for the school through workshop-produced works for the 'real world'. Windows commissioned for the Otte and Sommerfeld houses, (both designed by Gropius) the Grassi Museum in Liepzig and the Ulstein Publishing House in Berlin provided Albers the opportunity to produce large-scale architectural works. These pieces showed a growing interest in rhythmic interval, rectilinear geometries and spatial ambiguities. Though they remain with us only in black and white photographs, so that we cannot assess their colouristic content, these works do provide insight into the early development of the modernist glass movement in Germany. Their importance as radical works in the medium is not to be underestimated it should be remembered that most were in existence until 1944-45, long enough to have had some exposure to a generation of younger artists.

The lattice or "chessboard" motif first used on its own in "Grid Mounted" was used as a unifying element in the Sommerfeld House windows (appearing at the centre of each section). It appears again in the "Red Window" for the Bauhaus reception room by this time quite hard-edged, no doubt reflecting the increasing influence of de Stijl and Constructivist ideas on the Bauhaus as a whole. Moholy-Nagy had joined the faculty, bringing Constructivist ideas from Berlin. Theo van Doesburg, postulating that the " rectangle is the symbol of a new world", and that " the square for us is what the cross was for the early Christians", had come to Weimar and set himself up, " hoping to make the Bauhaus the headquarters of the Stijl movement in Germany. His attempts at this kind of official liaison with the Bauhaus led to bitter clashes with Gropius, Albers and others, and he left Weimar in 1923".

But the "chessboard" employed in the "Red Window" was significant in another way, too. The material used for the "chessboard" piece was called 'golda rosa' a pink flashed glass made with gold. The method used to achieve the two-toned image was sandblasting. And with Albers' inauguration of this commercial process for the execution of his glass compositions, there began a new phase of his artistic development…" centering almost entirely on the design of compositions specifically for single panes of glass to be processed by sandblasting."

By 1924 it had become clear that the glass workshop was not a lucrative operation, and it was discontinued when the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in April, 1925. With its demise, the architectural medium lost a powerful creative force Albers did not produce another architectural glass work again until 1955 (White Cross Window, for the Abbot's Chapel, St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota). On a personal artistic level, Albers, having already discovered the technique that was to shape his work for the next 8 years, was not handicapped. He was able to work with outside studios to execute his pieces, which continued to develop both artistically and technically.

Continued in Part Four.