A master of Weaving Anni Albers
Updated: Jan 7, 2019
I was attending art classes for adults about five years ago. I didn’t consider myself an adult, and, to this day, I don’t feel like one. Anyway, at that time, evening art classes worked very well for me. I had a very charismatic ceramics teacher and I still recall his lessons from time to time. The instruction: ‘You can make whatever you want, you just have to tell me before making.’ was a source of such freedom and such frustration at the same time. Apparently, it is easy to draw a dog, but if you imagine one, the dog drawn on paper is far from what you imagined. This was what I was thinking about at the Anni Albers exhibition at Tate Modern.
Anni Albers (1899-1994) was among the leading innovators of twentieth century modernist abstraction, who thought through the medium of textiles. As an artist, designer, teacher and writer, she used weaving as a medium to combine art, design, and architecture.
She joined the Bauhaus (school of art and design in Germany) weaving workshop in 1922. This workshop wasn’t her first choice. It goes without saying that there were only a few classes that permitted women at that time. Thus, she took the opportunity and weaved a way throughout her life. To her delight, at the Bauhaus she was surrounded by artists who tended to push contemporary art boundaries. A leader of a group of weavers Gunta Stölzl, an expressionist Paul Klee, an abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky, an artist and an educator Josef Albers, who later became her husband, challenged her to explore modernism in art in alternative ways.
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.
Anni Albers, from the exhibition guide
Anni Albers received her Bauhaus Diploma for designing a sound absorbing and light reflecting wall covering using cellophane for the auditorium of a trade union school. After harassment by Nazi authorities, the Bauhaus closed in 1933. Josef Albers got a position to teach at the newly founded Black Mountain College, USA, and Anni Albers’s diploma piece served as a proof of her abilities to continue her work there. Another factor which made her diploma piece essential and compelling is the mixture of synthetic and natural yarns and fibres. Since then, and throughout her career, newly invented cellophane, horsehair, cotton and jute were characteristically combined for the handwoven wall hangings, pictorial weavings and her designs for machine production.
Anni Albers expressed deep interest in ancient civilizations and the way they used threads for communication to visual expression. During her numerous trips to South America, she was fascinated by Pre-Columbian art and, especially, ancient methods of weaving. The question of the relationship between the art on the walls and designs for machine production had followed her since the days at the Bauhaus. Seeking a solution to these problems and the Bauhaus catchphrase “art is for everyone” drove the collaboration with Knoll Textiles. Since 1951, over a 30-year partnership, she designed a range of fabrics that are still available to order.
The desire to work in different materials led the artist to create jewellery from household objects. In collaboration with Josef Albers’s student Alex Reed, she produced hardware necklaces by, for example, attaching paper clips to a sink strainer, or mounting bobby pins on metal-plated chain. The freedom to see these things detached from their use allowed the artists to turn everyday materials into precious objects. To everyone’s surprise, no one cared about the value of used materials; everyone enjoyed the spiritual value. Their exceptional jewellery was exhibited several times in USA.
Depending on the purpose of her work, Anni Albers’s carefully chose not only materials, but also colours and patterns. In 1965, The Jewish museum in New York commissioned Anni Albers (she was from a Jewish family) to create a memorial to the six million Jewish people who died in the Holocaust. Six Prayers or six vertical panels in beige, black, white and silver commemorate this history in sombre and graceful way. More than a sculpture or a painting, a hand-woven memorial with a strong affective sense of the weaver’s touch provides personal meditation and a scriptural effect which would bring to mind sacred texts.
In her mid-sixties, Anni Albers gave up weaving and devoted herself to printmaking. Using different techniques like etching, aquatint, screen-print, lithograph and sometimes combining them, she created optically challenging designs, more like geometric patterns, resembling three-dimensional structures. This came from her experience in handling threads.
A weaver always has to think structurally, considering grids and patterns for the design supporting the initial idea, meaning and purpose. To put it simply, planning comes before doing. Upon entering the exhibition, one sees diagrams of possible weaves and studies for textiles in ink and watercolour on paper. This is followed by wall-hangings and pictorial weaving, commercial work and the collection of weaving samples and collectibles from South America. The last room explores the process of weaving in a film, samples of the types of yarn Anni Albers used, and her teaching methods. In all these, I saw rigorous work, dedication and resonances of a lifetime of experience.
- how to weave like Anni Albers (see how many skills and how much patience weaving requires)
- Anni Albers's lecture on jewellery
- Anni Albers's lecture on printing
- Anni Albers's life hacks summarized by Tate Modern
Bankside, London SE1 9TG
untill 27 Jan 2019