Pace Galleries

Alfred Jensen

The Number Paintings

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About Alfred Jensen

Alfred Jensen (b. 1903, Guatemala City; d. 1981, Livingston, New Jersey) studied painting at the San Diego Fine Arts School and in Munich under Hans Hoffman. After moving to the United States in 1934, his patron Saidie Alder May encouraged him to pursue his interest in color theory and pattern. Jensen's intricately organized diagrams reflect his distinctive conceptual approach, begun in the late 1950s when he started to refine his wide-ranging studies of systems and philosophies—from theories of color and light, mathematics, and the Mayan calendar, to scientific formulations—into multicolored checkerboards. He used mathematical systems to construct two-dimensional grid paintings and demonstrate color theories, but the work itself is metaphorical, referencing pre-Colombian and Asian cultures, textiles, and divination. Pace Gallery has represented Jensen's estate since 1977.

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Press Release

  • Alfred Jensen: The Number Paintings
    PaceWildenstein is pleased to announce that Alfred Jensen: The Number Paintings will be on view at 545 West 22nd Street, New York from September 29 through October 28, 2006. The public is invited to attend the opening on Thursday, September 28th from 6 to 8 p.m. Alfred Jensen: The Number Paintings looks at how the artist used Pythagorean theory, the Mayan Calendar, and other numerical systems as well as Goethe’s color theory in his work. The exhibition consists of 11 paintings and 16 works on paper spanning two decades from 1960 to 1980. It was in the early 1960s that Jensen read the work of J. Eric Thompson, the pre-eminent scholar of the pre-Columbian Maya Civilization and soon thereafter, Jensen earnestly began to investigate the relationship between numbers and color through his art. In his catalogue essay, William Agee discusses how Jensen pursued this investigation and how his life and art intersected. Agee remarks in his introduction that Donald Judd and Allan Kaprow, then young artists in New York, viewed an exhibition of Jensen’s in 1963 and had the highest praise for it, although for different reasons. “In retrospect,” Agee writes, “this seems fitting, for Jensen’s world view was based on the opposing dualities that he saw as the source and substance of life – light and dark, positive and negative, male and female, life and death, among them.” Alfred Jensen was born in 1903 in Guatemala. When he was 7 years old his mother passed away and he moved to Denmark to live with his uncle. After graduating from school in Denmark, Jensen spent some time working as a cabin boy and traveling before attending art school in San Diego, Munich, and Paris. In 1929 while in school in Paris Jensen met Saidie May, who would become his patron while he worked as her art advisor for the next 20 years. Jensen continued to study art and theory while he and Saidie traveled extensively acquiring art for her collection and meeting artists. In 1951 Jensen settled in New York and began to concentrate exclusively on painting following the death of Saidie May. At this time Jensen began to develop friendships with other important artists, like Mark Rothko, as well as patrons and dealers. In 1961 Jensen had his first solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 1964 he and his wife, Regina, traveled and painted for six months in Italy, Egypt, Greece, France and Switzerland. They continued to travel, study, and paint until 1972 when, along with their first child, Anna, they moved to New Jersey. In 1972 he joined the Pace Gallery and exhibited canvases based on I Ching and the Delphic Oracle. Jensen continued to exhibit his works in between travel throughout the rest of his life until 1981 when he passed away in Livingston, New Jersey. In 1985-1986 the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York held a retrospective of his work. Alfred Jensen’s work can be found in the collections of several museums including: The Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; Museum Insel Hombroich, Neuss-Holzheim, Germany; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Neue Galerie – Sammlung Ludwig, Aachen, Germany; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Additional information on Alfred Jensen is available upon request by contacting Jennifer Benz Joy, Public Relations Associate, at 212.421.3292 or via email at
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The Number Paintings by Alfred Jensen at Pace Wildenstein is a great exhibition. Superlatives such as this are generally of little use in criticism, but every so often you see something that reaffirms your love for art, reminds you how it is truly constituted and reveals why it is so hard to come by. At such times, only superlatives will do. In his catalogue essay, which is of a standard befitting such a show, William Agee quotes Donald Judd: “Now and then a chance occurs for a narrow, substanti



William C. Agee

2006. Pace Wildenstein. Paperback

73 pages: 39 color illustrations