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BOOK

REVIEW

Josef Albers - Formulation: Articulation Text by T G Rosenthal.Thames & Hudson, 2006.168pp. £60

A note opposite the contents page suggests why this book is so desirable: 'Albers' images have been printed on 200 gsm Gardapat Kiara paper with matt high-density inks and matt varnish in order to reproduce as faithfully as possible the original screenprinted portfolios.'

Such decisions really do make a difference - they capture the -ne discriminations that were Albers' longtime concern.

Unlike Le Corbusier in his Purist period (see Building Study pages 25-37), Albers didn't promote a particular theory about colour and its psychological or physiological effects. His teaching at Black Mountain College and Yale showed instead how relative it was. 'Colours present themselves in continuous ux, constantly related to changing neighbours and changing conditions, ' he says in Interaction of Colour - that invaluable guide to seeing (now in a new cheap paperback from Yale University Press).

Formulation: Articulation, published in 1972 when Albers was in his eighties, consisted then of two large boxed portfolios of screenprints, whose motifs spanned Albers' long career from the 'skyscraper' abstractions of the 1920s to the Homage to the Square series of his last years. On the initiative of the art historian T G Rosenthal, whose introductory text gives an excellent resumé of Albers' life, work and painting techniques, this new publication from Thames & Hudson presents all 127 prints in book form for the first time - reduced in size but otherwise faithful to the originals. What Rosenthal calls 'colour values of quite - endish subtlety' survive, partly because the book's printer scanned from the actual prints, not transparencies.

It could be seen to encapsulate almost half-acentury's research on Albers' part, and as in the splendid exhibition still at Tate Modern, where Albers is twinned with Moholy-Nagy, the book shows that some aspects of that research were more fecund and rewarding than others. The curvilinear and 'organic' motifs; the geometrical figures that ip inside-out; even the zigguratderived images (arresting though they are), all have less to offer than the orthogonal works based on building facades and the Homages to the Square.

Happily, both those series appear in quantity in the book and the examples of them are neatly juxtaposed. 'Without comparison and choice there is no evaluation. And why are we afraid that thinking and planning - necessary in all human activities - will spoil painting?' asks Albers in one of his accompanying notes. Always the teacher as well as the artist, he keeps prompting viewers to assess what they see, not just surrender to aesthetic pleasure, tempting though that is.

'The students of Albers were smart to have chosen him and lucky he was there, ' said Donald Judd. We're lucky to have this book. Though costing £60, it almost seems a bargain.

No wonder that Tate Modern had sold out of it last week.

The exhibition Albers and MoholyNagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World continues at Tate Modern until 4 June

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