From the Margins to the Modern Art Museum
It is a historical time when weaving is on display at one of the most prestigious modern art museums in the world. Once before, in 1949, Anni Albers exhibited her work stateside at the Museum of Modern Art. Now in the 21st century, we see a resurgence in the popularity of weaving as an art form and method of creative self expression. Now more than ever, we can trace the lineage of the leading textile designers and artists around the globe to the art of Albers.
This exhibit is the first major retrospective of Anni Albers work and it brings together her most important works from major collections all over the world. On View at Tate Modern in London October 11, 2018 – January 27, 2019, this exhibit realizes her significance as an artist and weaving as a medium of fine art. Opening ahead of the centenary of the Bauhaus in 2019, this exhibition is long overdue recognition of her pivotal contribution to modern art and design, and part of Tate Modern’s wider commitment to showing artists working in textiles.
Material Exploration and MoMA
Throughout her life, Albers did receive accolades and recognition for her work. She had enormous creative output during her career that included educational experiments in matter (matière) using corn, paper, grass, and string to produce textile effects; she created industrially produced drapery, upholstery and dress materials, as well as made pictorial tapestries.
Albers experimented with a variety of new and innovative materials during her time. On view at a solo exhibition in 1949 at the Museum of Modern Art, she showed drapery constructed of black cellophane, copper chenille and a combination of cellophane and cotton. Her screens were made of black raffia and cord, wood strips and dowels, black and white raffia with linen and cellophane. She was always analytical of the woven structure and varied it to achieve a subtlety of texture. She added luster and color using threads of plastic, and fine metal foil and other non-traditional yarn materials to serve her designs purpose.
She experimented with almost everything from woven paintings to stiff woven screens designed as architectural elements for modern buildings. She made textiles that were an integrated part of modern living spaces.
Pivotal Research into the weaving workshop
A retrospective exhibition of Anni Albers work is long overdue. It has been 30 years since Bauhaus scholar Sigrid Wortmann Weltge began her research of the extraordinary women artists at the Bauhaus. The beginning of the research started in 1987 as an exhibit called, The Bauhaus Weaving Workshop: Source and Influence for American Textiles. This exhibit gave due credit to the original Bauhaus Weaving Workshop as the source and influence of modern textile design.
From this initial research and exhibition came 1993 book, originally titled, Women’s Work: Textile Art from the Bauhaus. Weltge unearthed the missing chapter in the story of the most important institution in the history of modern design. As the preeminent design phenomenon of the era, almost every aspect of the Bauhaus had been minutely examined. Yet the Weaving Workshop, the longest standing and most successful of all Bauhaus workshops, had been neglected for one reason; textiles in the hierarchy of design were to be women’s work.
Weltge did original archival research and interviews, both with survivors, including Anni Albers, and their students and with leading contemporary designers to detail the workshop’s history and its enduring legacy. Her research and published work was instrumental to our acknowledgement of the importance of Albers’s work today.
In 1998, Thames & Hudson published Weltge’s book with the less engendered title, Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and The Weaving Workshop.
Handweaving as Modern Art
Born in Berlin at the turn of the 20th century, Annelise Else Frieda Fleischmann became a student of the Bauhaus in 1922, where she met her husband Josef Albers and other key modernist figures like Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Though the Bauhaus aspired to equality among the sexes, we know that women were discouraged from entering certain workshops including painting. Because of this, Albers came to weaving by default; but in textiles she found her means of creative expression. The Tate exhibition explores how in the school’s weaving workshop, traditional handweaving was redefined as modern art. It is by the intention of the artist, not the chosen medium, that the artistic voice is amplified.
Albers made frequent trips to Mexico, Chile and Peru, collecting artifacts and immersing herself in ancient culture that profoundly influenced her work. This exhibition examines her incredible body of woven works of art known as ‘pictorial weavings’, inspired by these visits to Central and South America.
On Designing 1959
Although Albers made many creative art works and material experiments, her work was very commercially viable. Her writing in her book, On Designing, frequently explored the issue of art versus craft stating that woven threads could serve both artistic and commercial endeavors.
In Chapter 3, The Pliable Plane: Textiles in Architecture, she advocates ‘a new understanding between the architect and the inventive weaver’. She compares the process of weaving to the process of building. Advocating textiles to create something warm to the touch, color, and luster in contrast to the flat, hard, cold building materials of modernist architecture. Albers’s textiles were overall textural designs and solid colors. Textiles become an integral element of the building. Mies van der Rohe was one of the first architects to use Albers’s textiles in this architectural form.
She says, “New uses of fabrics and new fabrics could result from a collaboration; and textiles, so often no more than an afterthought in planning, might take a place again as a contributing thought.”
Designing for Industry
Anni Albers’s relationship with Knoll Textiles began in 1957 and spanned twenty years, reflecting two artistic periods of her career. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, her practice reflected the utilitarian principles of the Bauhaus. She made open-weave draperies for Knoll. Later, in the mid-1970s, when she had shifted her focus from weaving to printmaking and graphic work she made printed textiles. Her best known print for Knoll Textiles is Eclat, and was produced as a printed fabric from 1974-1976. This pattern is still available as a woven textile from Knoll Textiles as Eclat Woven.
On Weaving 1965
Her book, On Weaving was published in 1965 and republished in 2018. This book is both a visual atlas and technical handbook. In it she reflects on the history of weaving as a global phenomenon, dating back thousands of years while being simultaneously modern.
‘Besides surface qualities, such as rough and smooth, dull and shiny, hard and soft, it also includes color, and, as the dominating element, texture, which is the result of the construction of weaves. Like any craft it may end in producing useful objects, or it may rise to the level of art.’
The way Albers addressed the intersection of art and craft; handweaving and machine production; ancient and modern weaving techniques has influenced generations of textile designers. It is a now a pivotal time for weaving in our history.
Weaving is modern art.
Anni Albers is organized by Tate Modern and Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusselforf. It is curated by Ann Coxon, Curator, Interionational Art, Tate Modern, Professor Briony Fer, University College London with Maria Muller-Schareck, Curator, Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen assisted by Priyesh Mistry, Assistant Curator, International Art, Tate Modern and Linda Walther, Assistant Curator, Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. The show is accompanied by an exhibition catalog featuring new research on Albers’ work.
This exhibit is supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art. It is dedicated to exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States for national and international audiences. Recognizing the importance of experiencing original works of art, the foundation provides opportunities for interaction and study, beginning with the presentation and growth of its own art collection in Chicago. To further cross-cultural dialogue on American art, the foundation supports and collaborates on innovative exhibitions, research, and educational programs. Implicit in such activities is the belief that art has the potential to distinguish cultures and to unite them.