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Exhibitions of the Week: Up Close and Personal with Josef Albers at MoMA, Gustav Klimt at the Neue Galerie

One and One Is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers (Until April 2 at the Museum of Modern Art)

Josef Albers is best known for art that has nothing whatsoever to do with the human figure. After all, his seminal works are a set of abstractions known, collectively, as Homages to the Square. With these, he explored the subtleties of color interaction, posing almost every hue imaginable against almost every other hue imaginable during the ebullient run that the series began around 1950. Yet with The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers, the Museum of Modern Art has decided to bring forward a very different side of the German maestro, to show him working exclusively with forms taken straight from mundane life and, perhaps most remarkably, without color. The occasion of this compact showcase is the addition of ten of the aforesaid photocollages to the MoMA collections, but the best reasons to see this one are the changes of mood, and the unexpected correspondences to other early photographic art, that arise from the Albers entries.

While these are a departure from the Albers most museum-goers know, do they amount to more than an interesting exception to his usual devices? In some cases, not really. Albers's fascination with juxtaposition and dissonance guides some of these photocollages, but does not necessarily guide them right: surely he could have done something more interesting than pair two staircase corners or two groups of trees (a common tactic of his from the late 1920s) and hope we'd be intrigued. In other cases, he attempts to take control of a topic or motif and completely loses control of his compositions. There isn't much more to Bullfight, San Sebastian than a few shots of crowds and cars spackled next to one another, in a weird symmetrical composition that sits more like a suit of armor than like a work of art.

And in yet other cases, he both stuns and enchants. Albers was blessed with a subject of expressive power in fellow Bauhaus artist Paul Klee, and the three photocollages that feature Klee's smooth yet blocky visage are a character study as good as any. Of these, the most remarkable is the 1929 Paul Klee in His Studio, which mainly features Klee's visage in shots that become progressively smaller from left to right. Yet at the bottom right, two heavily shadowed photos of Klee's head crop up, adding a little intrigue and a little activity to what could have been a stretch of empty backing-stabilizing and harmonizing the entire composition. Such arrangements give these photo collages an almost cinematic effect, but also call faces and figures glimpsed through series of windows, the whiteness of an apartment building pulsing around them. They aren't the inventions of an artist known primarily in photography; they are, though, everything a modernist photographer-or an aficionado of modernist photography-could ask for.

Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age (Until January 16 at the Neue Galerie)

Can an artist as exuberant as Gustav Klimt function without mythological overtones or patches of nudity, and deliver a good clean portrait? On the basis of the Neue Galerie's current showcase, yes, yes he can. Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age covers a branch of the artist's late-career output; 1900 to 1918 are the years of focus, portraiture is the genre of choice, and the allegorial, erotic side of Klimt's personality is very much in the background. For anyone who would rather delve into the minutiae of Klimt's creations than simply be knocked senseless by them, this show is invaluable. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), a Neue Galerie stalwart, is here in all its golden glory, but is accompanied by preparatory drawings and by an intensely detailed catalogue.

Klimt has not fully forsaken his usual grandiosity by any means. The show itself brings in a reproduction of a sixth-century mosaic of the Byzantine Empress Theodora, which Klimt referenced in the Bloch-Bauer composition. Fun, but why? More to the point are the subdued portraits of Szerena Lederer and Gertha Loew, which reveal Klimt working in tones so washed-out that hair, eyes, and blush seem to rupture the canvases. But most impressive is the Portrait of Mada Primavesi (1912), a portrait of a nine year-old girl that exchanges Klimt's signature golds for a matte magenta background and isn't even most remarkable as a feat of form and decoration. Klimt's Mada stares directly out at us with an expression that is firm, jaunty, almost defiant; while his dancers and society women too often seem to lounge, this subject seems just seconds away from springing off the canvas. Although there's a story that may explain this-the adult Ms. Primavesi recalls becoming "impatient" during the portrait sittings, and that Klimt would tell her to "Sit for a few minutes longer"-you don't need to know it to appreciate the depth of personality that is manifested her, by both Mada and her famous portraitist.

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From This Author Patrick Kennedy