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Anni Albers. Art as Exploration
The Didaktika project helps visitors to explore certain key ideas of the exhibitions through educational spaces, special activities and, this online section which presents the outstanding educational approach and strong artistic convictions of Anni Albers (Berlin, 1899 – Orange, Connecticut, USA, 1994).
The Bauhaus school (Weimar, Dessau and Berlin, Germany) and Black Mountain College (North Carolina, USA) were central to Albers’ life. Anni Albers went briefly to the Kunstgewerbeschule where she discovered the production of textiles, and that encounter was explored much further at the Bauhaus. Later, at Black Mountain, Albers was able to broaden her investigations and develop an oeuvre that renovated the traditional concept of textile art, situating it beyond the sphere of craft practices.
Albers was guided throughout her practice by her thirst for discovery and her constant curiosity for experimentation with techniques and materials. These qualities were further enhanced by her numerous travels, including highly inspirational trips to Latin American countries like Chile, Mexico and Peru.
The Bauhaus school, Germany. The first encounter with textiles
Albers studied at the School of Applied Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule) in Hamburg in 1920 but eventual disillusionment with traditional teaching methods prompted her to go in search of a more experimental training. Captivated by a brochure she saw for the Bauhaus, a new German center of design and applied arts in Weimar, she decided in 1922 to apply for a place there.
Despite the theoretically liberal character of the Bauhaus, Albers had to open her way through a male world. Walter Gropius, the director of the institution, discouraged women from attending classes regarded as excessively "physical", such as metalwork or carpentry. Albers therefore opted for textiles, but even so described the Bauhaus as “an adventurous school that knew we had to break away from academic art”.
Her interests did not coincide completely with the practical and industrial focus of the Bauhaus, but the breadth and freedom of the curriculum proposed by the school allowed her to develop her artistic inclinations:
"What made it exciting to be at the Bauhaus was that there was no system to teach yet […] and that you felt that you were completely on your own and that you had to find somehow your way of functioning […]. This vacuum is something probably very important for every student to experience."
Black Mountain College, USA. Community Learning
After the rise to power of the Nazi party in 1933, the Bauhaus was forced to close, as the authorities considered the school a nest of communists and liberals and a source of what they termed ‘degenerate art’. Both Anni and her husband, Josef Albers, a teacher at the Bauhaus, were invited that same year by Philip Johnson, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, to teach at Black Mountain College (North Carolina, USA). This small experimental art school had been founded by Andrew Rice and Theodore Dreier, two teachers at Rollins College in Florida. Out of frustration with the traditional teaching system, they had decided to open a center of their own where they would offer an interdisciplinary artistic education based on principles of community and collaboration. Visual art itself was to be the basis of the curiculum. The students lived together and shared in the upkeep and management of the facilities, including gardens and farmland. Priority was given to practice over theory, and both students and teachers were encouraged to experiment with new methods and techniques. Other artists who also went to teach at Black Mountain, attracted by the freedom it offered, included the choreographer Merce Cunningham (who founded his own dance company there), the musician John Cage, and the artist Willem de Kooning.
On her experience at Black Mountain College, Albers remarked:
"It turned out to be a very interesting place because it gave us a freedom to build up our own work […] I built up a weaving workshop and got into teaching and developed teaching methods."
Discovering textiles. Wall Hangings
Anni Albers’ creative process was one of constant exploration, and it was marked by a series of discoveries. At the Bauhaus she entered the world of textiles, while years later, in the United States, she was to discover the potential of prints.
Albers enrolled in 1922 in the textile workshop of the Bauhaus. At that time, as the artist herself explained, “weaving was not developed very much as a specific discipline but rather as a loosely used tool.”
On one occasion, the artist stated: “I think the way I approach weaving today is partly just sitting down in a completely free way and figuring out what happens if I twist this, turn this, and so on.” After learning about dying processes and the functioning of looms, Albers studied the aesthetic and industrial potential of textiles. That search led to the making of her first wall hangings.
The artist devised a systematic and organized method of production that allowed the textiles to be manufactured serially and in large quantities, though she did not not do serial weavings. Her woven wall hangings displayed modular patterns which were repeated, rotated or interlaced in accordance with geometrical rules. Albers would choose a figure—the triangle was one of her favorites—and would repeat it until she achieved the final composition she desired. On this initial basis, Albers could then weave a new secondary pattern or create different layers and volumes, giving the piece different densities. Her observation of the work of Paul Klee (1879–1940), who was a teacher at the Bauhaus when Albers was studying there, and was the formmaster of the textile workshop for some years, had an essential influence on the artist’s working method.
Experimenting with new techniques and materials. Textures
In 1929 Albers was commissioned by architect Hannes Meyer, then the director of the Bauhaus, to design a wall covering for the new auditorium of the Allgemeinen Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbundes Schule in Bernau (Germany) using a synthetic material similar to cellophane. This fabric had two sides serving two different purposes, since one was soundabsorbing and the other light-reflecting. At this period, Albers’s work was gaining a reputation and her pieces were gradually starting to be shown in Berlin, her native city.
When she arrived at Black Mountain College in November 1933, Albers had very few materials at her disposal, since many of those she had brought from Europe had been damaged during the voyage and the school’s location in the middle of the countryside meant she had few resources within easy reach. This circumstance, combined with her innate curiosity, led her to experiment with the use of vegetal materials—such as jute, hemp, corn, grass, or eucalypt leaves and materials of industrial origin—such as metal thread—with which she discovered different textures and created unique combinations.
In 1963, while Iiving in New Haven, Connecticut (USA), Anni took her first steps in the field of printmaking. It did not take the artist long to discover that this technique offered her a faster or, as she put it herself, a freer means of expression:
“My great breakaway came when my by-then husband, Josef Albers, was asked to work at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles […] June Wayne, head of the workshop, asked me to try a lithograph myself. I found that, in lithography, the image of threads could project a freedom I had never suspected.”
That year she made two prints in the workshop, and then went back to New Haven and made two more prints. In 1964 June Wayne invited her to be a fellow at Tamarind and she made her series “Line Involvements”.
These first series of lithographs, which took thread and its forms as a conceptual starting point, were followed by printmaking with different layers of various inks which, when mixed with acids, generated colored transparencies and gave rise to optical illusions (such as three-dimensionality). The artist was delighted at the possibility of serial production of works of this type, and from then until 1984 concentrated exclusively on printmaking, leaving textiles definitively behind her.
Talk. Anni Albers: You can go anywhere from anywhere
Wednesday, October 4
Nicholas Fox Weber, Director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation will speak about the art and life of Anni Albers. Having known the artist well for over two decades, Weber will present Anni as an extraordinarily engaged and engaging artist, unique in her pioneering approach to textiles and printmaking, courageous and undaunted in the choices she made for her life. A person of particular integrity and style, her humor on a par with her daunting intelligence, Anni Albers emerges in this talk as one of the most intrepid individuals of the last century, and a splendid person to know.
Jewelry Design Workshop [+18]
At Black Mountain College, an experimental art school where Anni Albers taught for years, she met the student Alexander Reed. Both created a collection of anti-luxury jewelry using unheard-of materials like paper clips, hairpins or screws. In this workshop, which lasts several sessions, jewelry designer Matxalen Krug will show you how everyday stuff was used in those pieces from the 1940s and in contemporary design.
Venue: Education Room. Time: 6–8 pm
Textile Experimentation Workshop [+18]
Saturday, November 25
Discover how Anni Albers worked with materials and how she experienced with metallic and copper thread to create her extraordinary fiber paintings and hanging murals. Workshop led by Teresa Lanceta, an artist and fiber creation expert.
Venue: Zero Espazioa. Time: 10:30 am–1:30 pm
Guided tour with artist Teresa Lanceta
Saturday, November 25
Artist Teresa Lanceta will explain a selection of artworks from the exhibition Anni Albers: Touching Vision on a one-hour tour.
Meeting point: Zero Espazioa. Time: 6–7 pm
Audio guide and adapted guides
The audio guides, available at the Museum entrance, provide further information on the works in each exhibition.
Ask at the Information desk for audio/video guides for people with cognitive, hearing and/or visual impairments.
Free quick tours on the artworks exhibited. Check times, topics, and available languages at the Information desk.
Tickets: Free admission. Min. 5 people, max. 20 (first come, first served; no prior reservation). Groups will not be admitted
Length: 30 min.