by Roderick Conway Morris

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Anni Albers, Reluctant Weaver

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 8 May 1999
Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation
Anni Albers photographed by Nancy Newhall, 1947



Anni Albers was one of the last survivors of the Bauhaus group when she died in 1994 and perhaps the last significant member of it to receive proper recognition as an artist and designer in her own right.

That she was for so long regarded as a secondary figure in the movement was partly because in 1925 she married Josef Albers, the first Bauhaus graduate to become a teacher at the school and a major figure there. The Bauhaus may have been advanced in some ways for its time, but female students had more limited options than their male counterparts and were directed into disciplines such as ceramics and bookbinding. Albers liked the idea of doing glass, but the position there was already occupied - by Josef Albers.

So Albers reluctantly ended up in the weaving department, where to her own surprise she excelled (although in her 1953 American passport she was still being described as 'housewife').

Albers's long and fruitful career with textiles is fully surveyed in an excellent and outstandingly well-designed exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the Grand Canal. When the show closes on May 24 it will travel to the Josef Albers Museum in Bottrop, Germany, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and the Jewish Museum in New York.

Like most Bauhaus members, the Albers couple took refuge in America after the school was definitively closed down by the Nazis in 1933. The move across the Atlantic was productive for both of them, and it is fascinating to follow Anni Albers's artistic progress there.

Visits to Mexico were particularly stimulating, where Albers was delighted to find 'art was everywhere,' even in the simplest everyday objects, as Nicholas Fox Weber in the show's catalogue records her telling him, in his affectionate and amusing warts-and-all memoir of this characterful, dedicated and sometimes acerbic artist. Albers and her student Alex Reed later put a new spin on the concept of the ubiquity of art by making wacky jewelry out of sink strainers, paperclips, bath chains and other hardware store objets trouvés.

The weavings Albers created are usually austere at first view, often employing natural colors like grays and beiges, but on contemplation they reveal themselves to be of great subtlety and suggestiveness. The best pieces are in effect woven abstract paintings, sometimes replete with contained energy, at others imbued with Zen-like serenity.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023