My journey to “Search Versus Re-Search: Josef Albers, Artist and Educator” started out on a very good foot — the opening reception included fresh pizza, gelato and hipster art students galore. The show was located in the smaller gallery of the Yale School of Art on 36 Edgewood, and the opening reception spilled out onto the lawn between the exhibit and one of the art buildings. I pushed through the crowd to get to the food and then to the exhibit itself, optimistic but uncertain whether the artwork would top the two slices of mushroom pizza I’d just devoured.
I wasn’t disappointed. The space itself was airy and the simple white walls allowed me to focus on the work itself. There were two large cases in the middle of the room that held other types of art, and a table off to the back holding three dimensional pieces. There was certainly a wide variety of art — paper foldings (much more impressive than they sound), manipulated screens, drawings, collages and paintings. My absolute favorites were the manipulated metal screens, which had been cut and folded into perfect three-dimensional shapes (the grid within the screen was especially interesting to see within the context of a larger, curved form).
As I wandered through, I noticed (and enjoyed) that the exhibit broke down different artistic elements, in keeping with Albers’ focus on isolated elements. Several of the pieces focused solely on line, while others delved into color theory, form and shape. This separation allowed me to see and appreciate his mastery over the individual elements. For example, one figure drawing featured lines of shifting intensity — darker, heavier variation within one line was meant to mark the sharpening in a crease within the figure, while lighter, thinner parts of the line indicated a softer, less visible part of that same line. The pencil thus darkened particularly at the waist and shoulders of the figure, an interesting example of using only line to define a form.
The exploration of color was equally thought-provoking. In his classes, Albers had his students use scraps of colored paper so that they could easily shuffle different pieces around, thus exploring how colors seem to change based on their surroundings. This exploration of color expands into illusions and discussions of boundaries in several of his own works. Some of the paintings, particularly one of blue rectangles, show several, barely distinguishable colors on the same canvas; in this piece, the canvas seems to become a plane of pure color.
The exhibit provides extensive biographical information about Albers, the classes he taught and his artistic legacy. Some of the pieces on display, particularly the drawings, come from students who studied under him, and their work demonstrates very clearly Albers’ approach to teaching drawing: by starting first and foremost with the line. Because so many sketches and initial plans are on display, it’s possible to see the internal transformation that Albers went through as an idea developed into a finished product. Some of the finished works look deceptively simple, and seeing the step-by-step process that it took to get there gave me a new appreciation for the immense thought and effort that went into them.
Overall, it’s a wonderful, worthwhile exhibit (and that’s not just the free pizza talking). “Search Versus Re-Search” is large enough to make a visit an outing of its own, but not so large as to be overwhelming. Between the illusions, drawings, color studies and paper forms, there is something for everyone to search and re-search.