COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Homage to the Creative Process
Joself Albers, Homage to the Square. Courtesy of The Morgan Library.

Joself Albers, Homage to the Square. Courtesy of The Morgan Library.

Side by side comparisons, also known as “compare and contrast,” are the go-to tool of art historians. It’s a fail-safe method that brings out the most fine of subtleties in works that at first glance have nothing in common. What is one to do with about 60 sketches of oil on paper by Josef Albers currently on view at the second floor gallery of The Morgan Library when all of them look almost the same? There are a few pieces in which Albers experimented with the diagonal but other than that the room is filled with what he named “Homage to the Square,” in a variety of color combinations that seem infinite.

A great preparation for the show is Holland Cotter’s exhibition review “Harmony, Harder than it Looks,” published in The New York Times on July 26, 2012. Subsequently, one is fully equipped to enjoy the exhibition and to really absorb Albers’s creative process. Vibrant, inviting, and deceiving, each one of the artist’s experiments reveals so much about our own visual perception and our intellectual ability to follow the artist’s mind. His mind rather than his hand mainly because Albers was interested in pure color and how it relates to other blocks of color, how it behaves relatively to its materiality (its own thickness and the quality of the surface below) and how it reacts with voids (incisions) or transparency (varnish).

 

 

Hermès, Homage to the Square. Courtesy of Wallpaper*

Hermès, Homage to the Square. Courtesy of Wallpaper*

Four years ago, when the creatives at the luxury House of Hermès produced a series of scarves as a “Homage to Albers” (and really a reinterpretation of the Homage to the Square) they experimented with printing techniques in order to achieve the quality of color that Albers had pursued. The process resulted in a new method of “frame” printing, called “edge-to-edge” printing, in which large areas of color are printed on the silk so that they touch each other but do not overlap. This is done without the usual serti that ‘closes off’ the color. The fact that his monochromatic works allowed a new printing technique to be developed speaks volumes of Albers’s value as an artist. The uninitiated may dismiss his work as a superficial series of colorings, in a snap judgment. If so, the “compare and contrast” method has failed. If, on the other hand, one studies the sketches for what they are, namely experiments in a creative process that can be replicated in other media, one ends up with as a successful a product as the six carrès (silk scarves) Hermès created as a limited edition of 200 each. Both Albers and the printmakers at the Hermès silk factories in Lyon remained true to the Bauhaus mentality that called for innovation in the fields of crafts and fine arts so that new designs could circulate in great numbers as commercial products with a strong aesthetic.  From Albers to Hermès, what we have is fine art for the masses.

My takeaway from the most beautifully arranged exhibit at The Morgan Library (on view through October 14) is that a “compare and contrast” between “fine arts” and “crafts” remains legitimate. So does a side-by-side comparison of an individual artist and a workshop when both work on similar principles. Perhaps, what matters the most is the accomplishment of innovation that comes with hard work, experimentation, and boldness.

© Thomaï Serdari