‘Albers and Morandi: Never Finished’ to Open at David Zwirner Gallery, Chelsea




Image: Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta (Still Life), 1953 (detail)

David Zwirner is pleased to present Albers and Morandi: Never Finished, which will be on view at the gallery’s 537 West 20th Street location. The exhibition explores the formal and visual affinities, and contrasts between two of the twentieth century’s greatest painters: Josef Albers (1888–1976) and Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964).

Both Albers and Morandi are best known for their decades-long elaborations of singular motifs: from 1950 until his death in 1976, Albers employed his nested square format to experiment with endless chromatic combinations and perceptual effects, while Morandi, in his intimate still lifes and occasional landscapes, engaged viewers’ perceptual understanding and memory of everyday objects and spaces. Albers and Morandi: Never Finished will put each artist’s distinctive treatment of color, shape, form, morphology, and seriality in dialogue. Looking specifically at the stunning palettes of Morandi’s celebrated tabletop still lifes depicting humble vessels and vases and Albers’s seminal Homage to the Square series, the exhibition will elucidate how the two artists’ careful daily acts of duration and devotion allowed each to highlight the essence of color and the endless possibilities of their respective visual motifs. This shared aesthetic intensity links both artists and underscores their deep commitment to their forms. As Morandi once said, “One can travel the world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.”1

Though both Albers and Morandi created formally unique approaches to painting, their individual explorations of color reveal visual connections that redound throughout the exhibition. Both artists had a  novel understanding of how the quantity and interaction of color within a structured serial format could result in distinctive, visually vibrant compositions. As Heinz Liesbrock, director of the Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, notes, “Anyone who makes contact with Morandi’s and Albers’s pictures quickly discovers the central importance of color in the constitution of their pictorial cosmos. For Morandi, color defines forms and space—that is, it differentiates both planes and at the same time brings them closer together.… Albers’s color fields, on the other hand, although they are linearly defined and thus seem clearly separated from each other in the individual picture, merge into each other in the process of seeing, forming new connections and thereby blurring the levels of surface and space.”2

Here, color comes to be a shared, transcendent language through which the artworks communicate with each other. A small midnight-blue vessel isolated against an offwhite grayish ground in Morandi’s Natura morta (Still Life) (1959) seems to reiterate the status of the outermost square of cerulean blue in an Albers Homage from 1961. A rich vermillion, enclosed within a square of Naples yellow, in a 1954 , echoes the sienna red of a vessel in a rare, early Fiori (Flowers) (1915) by Morandi. The status of form, how Albers’s squares can project and recede based on their relation to one another, recalls how the experience of Morandi’s vases and pitchers are contingent upon the color, shape, and size of all the other items depicted in the composition. The pairings in the show bring out surprising and unexpected qualities in each artist’s work. Through their dialogue with Morandi’s still lifes, Albers’s linear, structured compositions reveal a painterly sensuousness and tactility that was always latent within them. The underlying conviction and determinacy of Morandi’s painterly act is never more evident than when his flowers and vessels rest adjacent to an Homage. The refinement of Morandi’s practice is further explored in the exhibition through the inclusion of a selection of the artist’s prints.

Building on the connections established between the two artists in dual shows in 2005, Josef Albers, the first major exhibition of Albers’s work in Italy at the Museo Morandi, Bologna, and Giorgio Morandi: Landschaft (Giorgio Morandi: Landscape) at the Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, Germany, Albers and Morandi: Never Finished offers the rare opportunity to make such individualized connections between these two artists, reaffirming the importance of each to the history of modern art, and underscoring their continued relevance to artists today. A forthcoming catalogue of the exhibition will be published by David Zwirner Books.

Albers and Morandi: Never Finished will be on view from January 7 to April 3, 2021 at David Zwirner, 537 West 20th Street, NYC.

1 Morandi quoted in Michael Kimmelman, “Looking Long and Hard at Morandi,” The New York Times (October 14, 2004) [accessed online].
2 Heinz Liesbrock, Giorgio Morandi: Landschaft. Exh. cat. (Düsseldorf: Richter, 2005), p. 14.

Don’t miss the exhibition, Pure Form, works by gallery and non-gallery artists exploring the formal qualities of abstraction, on view at David Zwirner Gallery’s 69th Street location from January 14 to February 20, 2021.

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