By Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator
The Special Collections Research Center is excited to announce the acquisition of a 1963 copy of The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers. The set was originally a limited run of 2000 sets of prints with an accompanying book that outlines a sequence of color exercises. The work comprises 80 silk screened prints that demonstrate how the eye perceive colors differently when set next to other colors. For example, the print in the image to the left has brown/tan squares surrounded by orange, yellow, and blue so that one brown square appears darker than the other, despite the two squares being exactly the same shade. The video at the bottom of this page demonstrates the effect of revealing that the two brown squares are the same by lifting a flap.
Josef Albers (1888–1976) was an influential teacher, writer, painter, and color theorist. He began his career teaching at the Bauhaus before moving to the United States, and was an influential figure in 20th century modernism. From 1950 to 1958, Josef Albers was chairman of the Department of Design at the Yale University School of Art. There, and as guest teacher at art schools throughout North and South America and in Europe, including here at Syracuse University, he trained a whole new generation of art teachers, designers, artists, and industrial designers.
Albers’ interest and dedication to the study of visual perception was key to his work as an artist and teacher. In the introduction to The Interaction of Color, Albers discusses his views saying, “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.”
After its initial publication, The Interaction of Color proved to be such a valuable resource for artists that it was printed in many smaller and cheaper formats throughout the 20th century, finally even becoming an iPad app. The SCRC staff are very excited to offer this opportunity to view the original prints for a work that is so focused on the integrity of color, without screen resolutions or mass produced paper quality creating variations. A special collections setting in the Reading Room or classroom gives our users a unique opportunity to open and manipulate the frames of these prints. Continuing the spirit of Albers’ teaching, SCRC would especially welcome campus class sessions interested in comparing the work across printed editions and the app to contact Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator, to arrange a class session with this work (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s rare books collection (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).
“Artists Biographies.” The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, 2019, https://albersfoundation.org/artists/biographies/.