Josef Albers
Tenayuca, 1943

In 1935, on a break from teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Josef Albers and his wife, Anni, made the first of 14 trips to Mexico. Albers was inspired by the patterns of walls, stairs, and doorways that he saw at numerous ancient sites, including Tenayuca, a restored Aztec pyramid near Mexico City. He was also fascinated by the subtle variations on a single theme that he found in ancient clay figurines from Chupícuaro, which influenced his own interest in serial imagery and repetition.

Albers took several photographs while visiting Tenayuca. He focused on the linear intersections of stairways and platforms, using the camera to recast the three-dimensional structure in two dimensions. Over the next five years, these photographs served as the basis of a series of abstract studies that allude to Tenayuca without literally representing the pyramid. The final painting uses two shades of red, lighter in the foreground and darker in the background, to suggest movement and recession. The lighter red seems to pull the bottom of the flat gray form toward us, while the darker red helps push the top of the form back.

The push and pull of color juxtapositions, and the tension between flatness and three-dimensionality, were central themes in Albers’s work throughout his career.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Josef Albers
Date created
oil on masonite
22 1/2 in. × 43 1/2 in. (57.15 cm × 110.49 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase with the aid of funds from Mr. and Mrs. Richard N. Goldman and Madeleine Haas Russell
© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

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