Albers's art comes home to Germany - in a one-man museum
Bottrop, West Germany
Fifty years after he and his Jewish wife left the persecutions of Nazi Germany, artist Josef Albers is coming back to Germany. That is, 95 paintings of this ''father of Op-Art'' have come back to hang in an unusual one-man museum in Bottrop that promises to be one of this country's several outstanding museums.
Albers's widow, the weaver Anni Albers, would have preferred that his paintings stay in the couple's adopted land, the United States - but no American community or philanthropist proved willing to donate the money and building for a permanent one-man retrospective. Bottrop, Albers's birthplace, was prepared to make such an investment.
In this 300th anniversary of the first emigration of Germans to the New World , it is thus serving as a political as well as cultural and personal reconciliation. US Vice-President George Bush and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, along with Mrs. Albers, recently opened the museum as part of the kickoff ceremonies for the tricentennial celebration of a sometimes troubled bilateral relationship.
In the process, Bottrop is demonstrating conclusively that the coal and steel heartland of the Ruhr can patronize the arts as spectacularly as the more famous cultural centers scattered throughout Germany. The Albers Museum, in its own building designed explicitly for the collection donated by the Albers Foundation , will complement the city's already respected Quadrat Modern Gallery.
In breaking new ground with this one-man museum, Albers is posthumously following his own pattern. He was the first artist to have a one-man exhibit at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and his paintings now hang in the world's most famous museums. As a longtime faculty member of South Carolina's Black Mountain College (1933-49) and then of Yale University (1949-59), he had a seminal influence on contemporary painting sensibility in the US.
Robert Rauschenberg and Max Bill were his students. His theoretical treatise, ''The interaction of Color,'' has become the standard text on the subject (comparable only to Goethe's ''Zur Farbenlehre,'' suggests Ulrich Schumacher, director of the Albers and the Quadrat Gallery.
Albers's homecoming to Germany testifies to the artist's Bauhaus beginnings as well as to his New World development. The young schoolteacher first saw paintings by Cezanne and Matisse in Bottrop and was so stunned by their colors that he immediately left home and job to study at the Royal Art School in Berlin. From there he went on to the Bauhaus, then in Weimar, as a student and later teacher. At the Bauhaus, under the direction of Walter Gropius, he organized a stained-glass workshop and developed departments for design and typography, for glass and metal arts, and for furniture.
Stars of the exhibit here will include ''Kaiserlich,'' an American work made out of bits of discarded Weimar glass that the artist carried with him to America - and one early oil in Albers's ''Homage to the Square'' series. The latter painting, ''Homage to Yellow,'' has been chosen for the museum poster.
Other paintings here will include the 1945 ''Sanctuary,'' which will also appear on a new West German postage stamp.
Every effort is being made to carry the Albers spirit into the exhibition itself. Dr. Schumacher, following the Albers dictum that ''art must be experience,'' promises to ''try to make sure the visitor will be shocked by the presentation.'' And architect Bernhardt Kuppers says he has ''tried to present a harmonious setting which would be both classical and functional'' in his $1.7 million steel, aluminum, and glass building.
In line with this, one of the more unusual features of the building is the channeling of a natural spring found under the foundation into a lily pond on the grounds. The museum, which incorporates lighting ideas from an Albers plan for a jag-toothed roof of skylights, is one of very few in Europe to have been designed to its particular natural setting.