Anni Albers

May 28 - August 20, 2000

Anni Albers is considered the foremost textile artist of the twentieth century. She bravely broke from the tradition in which textiles reproduced naturalistic imagery or decorative ornament.

Anni Albers is considered the foremost textile artist of the twentieth century. Born in Berlin on June 12, 1899, she studied weaving and taught at the Bauhaus until it was closed in 1933, and afterwards immigrated to the United States where she continued to make innovative textiles and prints until she died in Orange, Connecticut in 1994.

From the time she was a young student at the Bauhaus, she created wall hangings that stand on their own as abstract works of art, comparable in their boldness and modernism to some of the bravest paintings of the epoch. In her upholstery, drapery fabrics, and other functional materials, Albers made the thread and structure synonymous with the appearance. Rather than disguise the components, she exulted in them. She bravely broke from the tradition in which textiles reproduced naturalistic imagery or decorative ornament.

Founded in Weimar, Germany, by Walter Gropius in 1919, the Bauhaus was a school of art, design, and architecture that promoted a closer alliance between the fine and applied arts. Annelise Fleischmann became a student there in 1922 and quickly fell sway to the ideas first published in 1908 by the art historian Wilhelm Worringer that an art work could be a “visual resting place.” She regarded straight lines and systematized abstract form as a means of providing the clarity and serenity she felt were absent in nature and lacking in other aspects of human life. She also made materials for everyday use that were more direct in appearance and purely functional than the ornate decorative objects of her youth.

In 1933 Anni Albers emigrated to the United States with her husband, Josef Albers, to teach at Black Mountain College, an experimental school in North Carolina. As if in direct reaction to their move to a less hierarchical, and in many ways more relaxed, culture, their art immediately lost some of its previous formality and acquired new texture and earthiness. Deeply influenced by the weavers of ancient Peru, she began to work increasingly with open-weaves and other unusual techniques for fabrics to be used as curtains, clothing, upholstery, wall coverings, and space dividers.

In 1965 Anni Albers was commissioned by the Jewish Museum to make an art work honoring the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi concentration camps. Six Prayers creates the impression of a sea of humanity—an infinity of human lives. One feels the connections and connectedness, the force of life itself. The six panels seem to pulse with blood, to breathe, even to evoke sound. The tone is suitably somber and elegiac, befitting the tragedy that this interlacing of thread and movement of abstract forms so effectively commemorates.

By the 1960s, Josef Albers was recognized worldwide as a color theorist, painter and teacher. In 1963, Anni accompanied him to the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, where he had a fellowship. She took up printmaking for the first time. Her goal from the start was to use printmaking techniques to achieve results available through no other means. At the same time, Albers maintained her lifelong interest in abstract compositions that were orderly but mysterious, balanced but asymmetrical.

The exhibition was organized by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, and The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Bethany, CT, and curated by Nicholas Fox Weber and Pandora Tabatabai Asbaghi. The installation was designed by Gae Aulenti.

Anni Albers is made possible at the Jewish Museum through the generous support of the S.H. and Helen R. Scheuer Family Foundation; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; Cotronics Corporation through Mr. and Mrs. Barry Reznik; Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich Weismann; the Joseph Alexander Foundation; the Alfred J. Grunebaum Memorial Fund; and other generous donors.