Textiles are brought to the fore in the art world with an unusual exhibition at London’s leading contemporary art gallery, Tate Modern; one that’s predominantly about textiles. The first thing you see as you enter Tate Modern’s current exhibition is a loom. Tate’s departure from the norm is a celebration of the life and works of artist and designer, Anni Albers, proving and celebrating her own viewpoint, that the ancient craft of weaving can be a modernist medium for art.
Weaving is the central focus of this exhibition of an accidental weaver. Anni Albers enrolled at the Bauhaus in 1922 to further her career as a painter. But painting was not deemed suitable for Bauhaus women, and instead she was recommended to try the weaving workshop. In Alber’s words, "Gradually threads caught my imagination".
“Alber’s brought her painters mind to the loom [and continued to weave] innovative, narrative works of art for the next 70 years." ELLE Decoration
This current solo retrospective of Anni Albers at Tate Modern is a comprehensive display of her work from her Bauhaus beginnings to her later years in the US, after she and husband Josef Albers (whom she married in 1925) fled the Nazis in 1933.
Anni Alber’s approach to textiles was experimental and pioneering. “Albers was right to recognise that weaving was a naturally modern from. What, after all, is more modernist than the grid formed by warp and weft?” Ben Luke, Evening Standard. Using the linear arrangement of threads, Albers "aspired to be seen as an artist" Hettie Judah, House & Garden. Her work, entirely abstract, was a detailed exploration of colour and texture. Influenced by Bauhaus masters, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Johannes Itten.
The show highlights the development of her weaving designs with her gouache sketches, beautiful in their own right, and her mastery at achieving ‘pictorial weaving’ as well as vast wall hangings. She became an accomplished weaver with an innate understanding of the dimensions of cloth. Embracing weave as an art form as well as pushing the boundaries of commercial textiles. She used experimental yarns including metallic threads, cellophane and rayon to create unusual effects and finishes. Anni Albers became pivotal in the creation of modern textiles.
The exhibition collates a prolific amount of work - from sketches, weave samples, wall hangings, rugs and prints - as well as illustrating Alber’s in depth, scholarly approach to her art form. Anni Albers work was both forward looking and reflecting on the past. The curators have dedicated a section of the show to her fascination with pre-Columbian artefacts and textiles. Alber’s held great respect the heritage of weaving, a technique thousands of years old. She would deconstruct woven fabrics to discover their structures. Through her textile collections and studies of the great weavings on ancient Peru, Albers was learning more and more about textile traditions. These discoveries greatly informed her work, and her exploration of tapestry weaving techniques.
“Her fondness for tapestry, essentially a pictorial art form, may seem curious in the context of her modernism, but her preference was for these Peruvian fragments whose step-forms and zigzags particularly attracted her. They were later to translate into her magnificent prints” Apollo Magazine.
“To let threads be articulate again and find a form for themselves to no other end than their own orchestration, not to be sat on, walked on, only to be looked at, is the raison d’être of my pictoral weavings.” Anni Albers
Anni Albers took much enjoyment in her Pictorial Weaving, describing this type of weaving as a form that was "pictoral in character, in contrast to pattern weaving" – artworks created using the materials and processes of weaving. A technique known as leno or gauze weave, where the warp (lengthwise) threads are twisted over weft (widthwise) threads, was used in several of her pictoral pieces.
Anni Alber’s weaving also pioneered on a commercial scale. She worked on many architectural commissions, in collaboration with architects and designers creating unique drapery fabric, for example, cloth that reflected light for the Rockefeller Guest House in Manhattan, New York, and wall-covering material for the Bundesschule Auditorium in Bernau, Germany 1929 which was woven in cotton, chenille and cellophane.
Anni Albers has had a longstanding influence on Claire Gaudion. You can read more on this blog in the article 'Gunta Stölzl, Anni Albers and Paul Klee' here.