Anni Albers, Tate Modern, 11th October to 27th January
I felt very lucky to have caught the retrospective of Anni Albers work during my trip to London.
The show was a thorough celebration of Albers pioneering work as an Artist, within the history of abstract modernism, and within the story of textile Art. It also coincides with the 100th year anniversary of the Bauhaus.
For me this exhibition highlighted Albers concerns between manufacturing and craftsmanship, and shows us powerful links between creativity and production, and the exploration of innovative materials and the development of new techniques. The exhibition represented her underlying concerns between the medium and the process of weaving spanning 50 years.
This blog is a bit of a rundown on what was in the show, as I wanted to archive it. I would like to acknowledge the work of curators Briony Fer and Ann Coxon. The quotes in this blog come from the gallery notes throughout this extensive exhibition as well as from the exhibition catalogue.
Curated over 11 large rooms in total, Huge! I’ll do my best to simply walk you through each room. This is by no means an essay on my part, but just an overview, a bit of background of what I loved and learnt. There were over 350 objects on display, so this is a VERY small snap shot of my favourite pieces.
Hope you enjoy.
The tactile room (photo from Dezeen article by Augusta Pownall, Nov 2018)
The exhibition was one of those shows, where you got used to the beep-beep sound of the alarm going off intermittently as viewers stood too close to the works, peering into the depths of the weaves trying to figure out the techniques, squinting, with our noses too close. It didn’t help that the lighting was dim, but for obvious reasons to protect these precious fibres, also many of these works were behind glass.
Room 1: Introduction to Albers (1899 – 1994) Anni Albers was an artist who developed weaving as a practice, as a process and even as a new way of thinking, determined to make weaving modern. Albers became a student at the Bauhaus in 1922, She was initially reluctant to study weaving, her preference was to study painting. The weaving department was known as the ‘women’s department’. However, Albers soon took to weaving, enjoying its complexities and challenges. She said “threads caught my imagination” and “I have learnt to listen to threads and to speak their language. I learned the process of handling them”. Albers became a leading innovator uniting the craft of weaving with the language of modern art and was a hugely influential figure for generations of artists and designers. Albers produced two books. In 1959, she published a short anthology of essays titled ‘On Designing’, and in 1965 her seminal book ‘On weaving’ was published. She wrote eloquently about the continued vitality of weaving, often in relation to its ancient past. She described weaving “as the adventure of being close to the stuff we are made of”
As we enter this first room, we are first greeted by her magnificent Loom. In an essay by Sharon Tsang-De Lyster, she describes this as "her instrument, at the entrance. The rest of the displays proves the magic it is capable of making under Anni Albers’s hands: a rich collection of ‘pictorial weavings’, wall-hangings, and architectural fabrics" (https://www.thetextileatlas.com/craft-stories/anni-albers)
Anni Albers Loom
A Wall hanging, 1924, Cotton and silk, 168.3 x 100.3
Wall hanging 1927, Cotton and silk, 148 x 121.5
Both these wall hangings are woven in very fine yarns of cotton and silk with a deceiving simplicity. The original wall hanging, from 1927 is lost, and the one exhibited was rewoven by Gunta Stolzl in 1964. Gunta Stolzl also played a fundamental role in the development of the Bauhaus school's weaving workshop.
Room 2: Weaving at the Bauhaus “One of the outstanding characteristics of the Bauhaus has been, to my mind, an unprejudiced attitude toward materials and their inherent capacities” Anni Albers
The Bauhaus art school in Weimar was founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius, who wanted to create a school that brought together sculpture, painting, arts and crafts.
The weaving workshop enabled students to produce independent artistic works as well as designs for industrial manufacture, developing its own distinctive language.
This was was one of my favourite rooms in the show, I loved getting up close to these beautiful original Gauche studies for weavings.
Design for wall hanging 1926, (below) shows the three colours of thread to be used, red, black and white, and the pink and the grey occur through the combination of white warp and red or black weft.
Design for a wall hanging 1926, Gouache on paper, Albers.
Design for a silk tapestry 1925, watercolour and gouache on paper, Albers. 29.7 x 22.1
Design for a 1926 unexecuted wallhanging, Gouache with pencil on reprographic paper 38.4 x 25
Gunta Stolzl, (1897 – 1983) Design for a wall hanging 1927. Watercolour, pencil, ink and gouache.
Watercolour designs for weaving, Lena Meyer-Bergner (1906-1981)
Meyer – Bergner, was one of Albers fellow students in the Bauhaus weaving workshop and produced several designs for weavings. This example in watercolour on paper are designs for carpets. It is not known if the carpets were ever produced, however, the designs reflect the linear grid constructions and experiments typical of the Bauhaus at the time, but using Meyer-Bergner’s distinctive colour combinations.
Students at the Bauhaus weaving workshop produced these woven swatches to explore weave structures and colour.
Black white and yellow (original 1926) Re-woven by Gunta Stolz in 1965. Cotton and Silk
This is one of three versions of 'Wallhanging' (1926) re-woven by Gunta Stolzl in the 1960's under Anni Albers direction. The original was most likely destroyed in the 2nd World War. There were only 3 different coloured yarns used, black, white and yellow, with a combination of shiny silk and cotton producing complex textures.
Untitled 1941, Rayon, linen, cotton, wool and jute
Untitled 1941, Detail
Untitled 1941, Rayon, linen, cotton, wool and jute. This work is thought to be one of the first weavings Albers produced as a pictorial form to be framed and displayed on a wall. In the process of weaving, Albers incorporated a wide edge of plain weave around the central grid, like a mount.
City, 1949, Linen and Cotton.
City, 1949, Detail
La Luz. Linen and metallic thread
In La Luz I, Anni Albers used linen and metal threads to create the impression of shifting light as well as texture. The cross shape seems to radiate light with the clever use of thicker and thinner threads.
Wall covering for an auditorium.
When Hannes Meyer, the 2nd director of the Bauhaus, designed the ADGB trade Union School in Bernau near Berlin, he commissioned Anni Albers to design a wall covering for the auditorium. The black and white threads on the front were interwoven with transparent cellophane, which has a metallic appearance that reflected the artificial light in the windowless auditorium. On the back of the weaving, Albers used chenille to produce a velvet-like surface that muffles sound. Albers received her Bauhaus diploma for this design in 1930. The architect Philip Johnson, who recommended her to Black Mountain College in the US, said this woven textile was her ‘passport to America’
Room 3: Black Mountain College “I tried to put my students at the point zero. I tried to have them imagine, let’s say, that they are in a desert in Peru, no clothing, no nothing… So what do you do? You wear the skin of some kind of animal maybe to protect yourself from too much sun or maybe the wind occasionally. And you want a roof over something and so on. And how do you gradually come to realize what a textile can be? And we start at that point” In 1933 the Nazis forced the Bauhaus to close. Anni and her husband Josef Albers, were offered teaching positions at the Progressive art school, ‘Black Mountain College’ in North Carolina. Here Anni Albers encouraged her students to explore simple weaving patterns using found objects, and using simple back strap looms.
Study made with Corn Kernels. (This was one of 4 photographs on display others were studies using, twisted paper, grass, and metal shavings.
Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) BMC Stamp, 1950, ink on newsprint
Ruth Asawa was one of Josef Albers’s students at Black Mountain College, and did these while on duty in the laundry room of the college, using stamps used to mark the laundry tickets. (I loved these!)
Room 4: Ancient Writing “the textiles of ancient Peru are to my mind the most imaginative textile inventions in existence. Their language was textile and it was a most articulate language….it lasted until the conquest in the 16th century. Until that time, they had no written language, at least not in the sense we think of, as a form of writing’ This is something close to my heart, the relationship between text and textile. (and was the basis of my thesis for my M.A in the mid 90's, but don't get me started) Anni Albers understood that pre-Columbian textiles served a communicative purpose, especially in ancient Peru, where there was no written language. As a young student in Berlin, Albers had regularly visited the Museum of Ethnology and its collection of Peruvian textile art. The black and gold weaving she titled Ancient Writing was made the year after her visit to Mexico in 1935. Ancient writing was the first in a series of pictorial weavings whose titles refer explicitly to texts and coded or ciphered character languages. Haiku 1961, Code 1962 and Epitaph 1968
Ancient Writing, 1936, cotton and rayon
Room 5: Pictorial Weavings "To let threads be articulate again and find a form for themselves to no other end that their own orchestration, not to be sat on, walked on, only to be looked at, is the raison d’etre of my own pictorial weavings”.
Anni Albers distinguished between the textiles she designed for architecture or interiors, and her smaller ‘pictorial weavings’.
Albers made many of her pictorial weavings in the 1950’s and used a small handloom to create these pieces, several of which incorporate a technique known as leno or gauze weave, where the vertical warp threads twist over each other around the horizontal weft threads.
Black-White-Gold 1, 1950, Cotton, Lurex and jute
Development in Rose 1, 1952, Linen
Development in Rose 2, 1952, Linen
Open Letter, 1958, Cotton
Open letter - detail
Play of Squares, 1955, Wool and Linen
Play of Squares, 1955, Wool and Linen (detail)
Northwesterly, 1957, Cotton, rayon and acrylic.
Northwesterly, 1957, Cotton, rayon and acrylic.
Variation of a theme. 1958, Cotton Linen and plastic
Variation of a theme. 1958, Cotton Linen and plastic (detail)
Dotted, 1959, wool Albers employs another ancient technique in this pictorial weaving that gathers yarn in twists and knots to create bobbles across the surface of the work. Using seven different coloured yarns, dots emerge from the cream-coloured background to become a formal element for the works abstract composition
Dotted, 1959, wool
Dotted, 1959, wool (detail)
Knoll. In 1951, the architect and furniture designer, Florence Knoll, invited Albers to collaborate with the Knoll textile department, to produce new fabrics. Albers consulted on a number of innovative fabrics for the company over a 30 year period. She developed several open weave casement fabrics such as Rail, track and Lattice, as covers for modernist glass windows.
Designs for Knoll
Room 6: The Pliable Plane. This room explored the relationship between textiles and architecture. Textiles, are so often an after-thought in a space! What if there was an understanding between the architect and the inventive weaver? In her essay the ‘pliable plane’, Anni Albers explored the relationship between textiles and architecture, examining its early beginnings and proposing a future where textiles become integral to architectural design. She spoke of the varying opacities, tensions and light reflecting qualities textile panels and room dividers can bring into a space.
Albers worked on many architectural commissions, collaborating with modernist architects and designers. In 1944 she designed a drapery fabric with light-reflecting qualities for the Rockefeller Guest House in Manhattan, New York.
Room 7: Six Prayers Six prayers 1966-7, is Anni Albers most ambitious pictorial weaving. In 1965 she was commissioned by the Jewish Museum, New York, to create a memorial to the six million Jews who had been killed in the Holocaust. Albers was from a Jewish family, though she had been baptised as a Protestant and saw herself as a Jewish only ‘in the Hitler sense’. Albers was undoubtedly intrigued by the commission. The six sombre, contemplative panels of Six prayers represent the six million Jews. Albers said of the work: ‘I used the threads themselves as a sculptor or painter uses his medium to produce a scriptural effect which would bring to mind sacred texts’
6 prayers, 1966-7, Cotton, Linen, bast and silver thread 186.1 x 297.2
Room 8: The event of a thread: ‘Weaving is an example of a craft which is many sided. Besides surface qualities, such as rough and smooth, dull and shiny, hard and soft, it also includes colour, and as the dominating element, texture…. like any craft, it may end in producing useful objects, or it may rise to the level of art’
Albers used a floating weft technique and brocade weaving (adding surface threads to a basic weave), and was able to integrate additional threads as free lines – ‘drawing’ with these threads into structure of her pictorial weavings.
In the mid-1940’s Albers began to explore knots and began to sketch and paint entangled, linear structures. Whether using paint, pencil or yarn, Albers’s works reflected her often quoted statement: ‘The thoughts….can, I believe, be traced back to the event of a thread’.
Intersecting, 1962, Cotton and Rayon 40 x 41.9
Intersecting, 1962, cotton and Rayon. (detail)
Room 9: On Weaving “one of the most ancient crafts, hand weaving is a method of forming a pliable plane of threads by interlacing them rectangularly. Invented in pre-ceramic age, it has remained essentially unchanged to this day. Even the final mechanisation of the craft through introduction of power machinery has not changed the basic principle of weaving”
This room demonstrates how extensively Anni Albers explored the theory and practice of weaving. Much of the source material for her two influential books are shown in this room. (In 1959, ‘On Designing’, and in 1965 ‘On weaving’). On weaving, served as a kind of visual atlas, exploring the history of the last 4,000 years of weaving around the world, as well as examining technical aspects of the craft and the development of the loom.
This room contained many beautiful collections of textile artifacts from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. It also exhibited some of the work of artists such as Jean (Hans) Arp and Lenore Tawney, who were well..