You walk through the entrance of the Whitney Humanities Center, you make a right into a virtually empty corridor, and you ask the friendly receptionist where the fine arts exhibit is taking place. “There,” she responds, gesturing across from her where the authentic pieces from Josef Albers’ “Interaction of Color” hang. Confused, you turn around only to see banal walls lined with moderate-sized lithographs, and manage to utter a surprised, “Oh.”
Josef Albers was one of the 20th century’s most prominent artists and teachers, and having his original works displayed directly in front of you is a remarkable opportunity, but the presentation of his and his students’ work in Whitney’s hallway is a bit disappointing.
Albers emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1933 and became the chairman of the department of design in Yale’s faculty of art in 1950. According to WHC Associate Director Mark Bauer, the “Interaction of Color” exhibit opened for a number of reasons, “one of them being that this is the centennial year of Yale Press, which had originally published Albers’ ‘Interaction of Color,’” a book made up not only of Albers’ works but also of his students’. The exhibit contains eighteen original studies from “Interaction of Color” and five original prints from Albers’ “Homage to the Square” series.
Albers’ works are to be admired, but at WHC, his works are presented in such an informal and mundane setting that they blend in with the monotonous walls rather than strike the viewer. Furthermore, instead of allowing full reflection on Albers’ colors, the pieces’ placement just outside the offices of faculty advisers drives concentration toward affairs taking place behind the walls. How can anyone contemplate the realities of color when an overeager freshman’s academic anxieties are annoyingly pouring through the open doors?
Luckily however, the art exhibit also extends to WHC’s quiet dining hall. The dimly lit room with its empty tables and chairs changes the ambiance, allowing more room for a profound connection with the pieces than the comparably insouciant hallway.
The exhibit is set up so that you can examine each piece with the aide of a guide pamphlet. This way viewers are able to read Albers’ notes, understand what he had intended to present, and then judge for themselves whether or not his method was effective. “The viewers’ eyes are always the test,” Mark Bauer said.
Albers’ works provoke reflection on the difference between perception and reality. The intention of the pieces is to convey how color is seen in relation to its surroundings.
Through color, Albers arouses thinking about the old aged philosophical inquiry, “What is reality?” This thought will remain with you throughout the exhibit, but only if you are alone in the dining hall, void of all distractions, occupied only by the probing questions with which Albers had armed his students and which he made prevalent in his art.