David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of work by Anni Albers (1899–1994) at the 537 West 20th Street location in New York. Curated by Brenda Danilowitz, Chief Curator at The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, this will be the gallery’s first solo presentation of the artist’s work since having announced exclusive representation of the Foundation, in 2016, and Albers’s first solo exhibition in New York since her 2000 retrospective at the Jewish Museum.
One of the most important abstract artists of the twentieth century, Albers combined a deep and intuitive understanding of materials and process with an inventive and visually engaging exploration of form and color. Following recent showings of her work in Europe at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 2017 (which attracted 383,000 visitors) and the widely acclaimed 2018–2019 retrospective at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, and Tate Modern, London, this exhibition will provide American audiences with a rare opportunity to experience the breadth of Albers’s decades-long career, including her pioneering wall hangings, weavings, public commissions, and a range of her innovative and colorful works on paper. On view for the first time outside of Mexico, will be Albers’s 10-foot tall wall hanging Camino Real, 1968. Commissioned by Ricardo Legorreta and Luis Barragán for the newly built Hotel Camino Real in Mexico City, this vibrant work brings together a number of important facets of Albers’s practice, in particular the profound impact of Latin American art and culture on the artist’s oeuvre.
Image: Anni Albers, Camino Real, 1968 (detail)
“Threads to build a future?”
Albers’s career began at the Bauhaus in the early 1920s. Fascinated by the visual world since childhood, she had wanted to study painting, but on arrival at the Bauhaus discovered that the only classes open to female students were in the weaving workshop. As she later recalled, “My beginning was far from what I had hoped for: fate put into my hands limp threads!” She was, however, also given opportunities—far from the school being a “readymade spirit” when she arrived, Albers later emphasized the altogether experimental environment she encountered: “The Bauhaus today is thought of always as a school … to which you went and were taught something.… But when I got there in 1922, that wasn’t true at all…. It was exciting that you knew you had the freedom to try out something. You were a contributor.… There was a need for doing something new.”
Albers embraced the possibilities of weaving as a medium, exploring materials and structural forms to create bold new work. “Anni was a great person for working with limitations,” says Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. “She used thread to make abstract art.”
A huge influence on Albers’s developing practice was the pioneering modernist Paul Klee, who began teaching Theory of Design in the Bauhaus’s weaving workshop in 1927. Klee’s famous instruction to “take a line for a walk” proved crucial to Albers’s experiments with nonrepresentational composition in her own medium. “I was trying to build something out of dots, out of lines,” she reflected, “out of a structure built of those elemental elements and not the transposition into an idea.”
The formal impact of Klee’s work is perhaps most visible in the “pictorial” weavings Albers began making in the 1950s. By hanging these on the wall, Albers clearly defined her ambition for woven works to be viewed as art. Although they reference the work of painters such as Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, the pictorial weavings transform their material in unique ways. As Ann Coxon and Maria Müller-Schareck have argued, “Her role within a history of abstraction is not to bring weaving close to painting but, on the contrary, to make the specific character of weaving—its structure and process—its own experiment in making art relevant to contemporary life.”
“We learn to dare to make a choice, to be independent; there is no authority to be questioned.… Still, there is one right opinion as to quality of a work of art, spontaneous and indisputable—one of our absolutes.… In art work any experience is immediate.” —Anni Albers, “One Aspect of Art Work,” 1944
In 1949, Albers became the first textile artist to have a solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
On moving from Germany to the United States with her husband, Josef Albers, in 1933, Anni Albers was able to deepen her experimental practice while leading the weaving department at the newly established Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The artist couple made many trips to Mexico during the 1930s and 1940s, driving to archaeological sites including Mitla, Chichén Itzá, Monte Albán, and Teotihuacán. Albers was deeply affected by pre-Columbian art and textiles, and went on to employ long-forgotten techniques mastered through her in-depth study and collection of these works.
In addition to the works she created, Albers wrote extensively on the history and diversity of and technical methods for creating textiles. Her aim was not simply to revive ancient techniques in order to reproduce them; rather, she sought to strengthen her modernist project through a special connection with these precedents, investing contemporary abstract work with formal and structural elements learned from ancient cultures. As art historian Briony Fer writes in the publication accompanying a major retrospective of Albers’s work at Tate Modern last year, the artist defied assumptions “about what ‘the modern’ should look and feel like.”
Albers’s seminal book On Weaving, published in 1965, is a luminous meditation on the art of weaving, its history, tools and techniques, and its implications for modern aesthetics. She dedicated the book to “my great teachers, the weavers of ancient Peru.”
In 1967, Albers was offered a unique opportunity to create a contemporary work in the region that so inspired her. The artist was commissioned by the architects Ricardo Legorreta and Luis Barragán to create a large tapestry for Legorreta’s newly built Hotel Camino Real in Mexico City. Constructed for the 1968 Olympics, the hotel was conceived to reflect “a unique personality and the feeling of true Mexican culture.“ Ambitious and cutting-edge, the hotel embodied the energy and ambition of its designers and of Mexico City in the late 1960s.
To greet guests in the lobby, Albers created “a resoundingly contemporary work notable for its scintillating chromatic spatial vibration.” The critic Lynne Cooke describes the work in further detail as “A complex, layered structure of pink, red, and crimson ziggurats, zigzags, and stepped triangles [that] deftly fused the ethos of an emerging generation of abstract artists, such as Bridget Riley, with Central America’s indigenous heritage.”
To realize Camino Real at such a large scale, Albers enlisted Abacrome, a Manhattan company that fabricated appliquéd flags and banners for artists like Robert Indiana, Richard Lindner, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, and Claes Oldenburg in the 1960s. Delighted with the results, she adapted her original gouache drawing as the basis for an eponymous screenprint.
Approaching her seventh decade at the end of the 1960s, Albers transferred her attention from weaving to more manageable graphic media. Her works on paper range from lithographs and screenprints to pencil sketches, ink and felt-pen drawings, and colorful gouaches. Like her arrangements using thread, the artist’s graphic compositions are uniquely inventive—”her art sings and vibrates and keeps you looking,” critic Adrian Searle observes, “following patterns and meandering lines, maze-like structures, grids and colourways.” Albers’s only known notebook, used regularly from 1970 until 1980, reveals the way she went about making different patterns, exploring them piece by piece, line by line in preparation for her graphic work and knot drawings.
Realized using pencil and paint or a printing press rather than a loom, Albers’s later work lost none of its complexity. Fox Weber recognizes in this period, “microcosms of clarity, balance, and wholeness, each with a certain irregularity … that adds to its strength and interest. Her prints have always been more than mere translations of the drawings.” Diverse and energetic, these works affirm Albers’s enduring curiosity about the potential of technique, as well as her commitment to visual communication in its many possible forms.
First published in 1965, this splendidly illustrated publication is Albers’s seminal meditation on the art of weaving, its history, its tools and techniques, and its implications for modern design. She dedicated the book to “my great teachers, the weavers of ancient Peru.”
For ten years beginning in 1970, Albers used her notebook to compose drawings and complex patterns relating to her large body of graphic work. This rare document reveals how she explored a range of dramatic and beautiful geometric compositions.