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Optical Illusion

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To Monte Alban

1942
23 13/16 x 19 1/8 in. (60.5 x 48.6 cm)

Josef Albers
American (Bottrop, Ruhr, Germany, 1888 - 1976, New Haven, CT)

Object Type: Print
Medium and Support: Zinc plate lithograph
Credit Line: The Charles Rand Penney Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery
Accession Number: 1975.152
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Location: Not currently on view
Collection: The Charles Rand Penney Collection

Edition: 26/30

Printer: Richard Schumann
Portfolio: Graphic Tectonics (1942)

Focus on the two most prominent rectangles in the image. Which of these shapes seems to be closer to you? What architectural structures unfold before your eyes?

Inspired by his travels to Latin American ruins in the 1930s and 1940s, Josef Albers’ print combines his streamlined Modern style of composition with inspirations from the ancient world. This particular print is an homage to the celebrated geometric pyramids of Monte Albán, which date back to around 300 BCE and are located in modern day Oaxaca, Mexico. Albers implies depth by surrounding the two central rectangles with a series of concentric lines, the arrangement mimicking the sloping sides of these grand architectural forms.

In this image, Albers also creates an optical illusion that challenges our perception of spatial depth. Which of these rectangles appears to be the top of the pyramid? Does that change depending on where you look?

[Label copy from Seeing in Color and Black and White, 2018]

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