Anni Albers initially wanted to be a painter. But it was ultimately the loom where she found artistic freedom at the Bauhaus. In her work, Albers was primarily interested in abstraction – an idea that she later promulgated as a teacher at Black Mountain College.

Portrait of Anni Albers / Photo: Umbo (Otto Umbehr), 1929. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Phyllis Umbehr / Kicken Gallery / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.
Portrait of Anni Albers / Photo: Umbo (Otto Umbehr), 1929. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © Phyllis Umbehr / Kicken Gallery / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016.

Anni Albers’ career as an artist begins like the archetypal life story of a Bauhausler: In 1922, still known as Anneliese Elsa Frieda Fleischmann (born 1899), she arrives at the Bauhaus in Weimar, where she aims to complete the studies that she began at the School of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg in 1919 and become a fine artist. She attends the preliminary course and then joins the weaving workshop in 1923. The young lady from a bourgeois home in Berlin then fulfils her artistic ambitions at the loom. Her success is unparalleled, perhaps also because she discovers in the strict grid of the loom a stability that she failed to find in free painting and certainly in the early Bauhaus with its 'great confusion' and 'extensive inquiry on all sides' (interview with Anni Albers, 1968, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution). In her designs for industrial mass production and her unique weavings, Anni Albers proves her prowess at the loom and her proficiency with textiles. In 1930 she completes her Bauhaus Diploma with a sound-absorbing, light-reflecting curtain made from cotton and cellophane, which is installed in the auditorium of Hannes Meyer’s trade union school in Bernau. When Gunta Stölzl leaves the Bauhaus in 1931 in the wake of a rebellion in the weaving workshop, Anni Albers takes over as head of the workshop, thereby becoming one of the few women to hold such a position.

At the Bauhaus, her life hits the right track in more ways than one: Here, she not only gets to explore the loom’s diverse possibilities, but also meets and falls for her life partner. The two marry in 1925 and the rebellious Anneliese Fleischmann becomes Anni Albers, wife of the Bauhaus master Josef Albers. Artistically, they shared above all else a life-long fascination with abstraction. Anni Albers’s interest in abstraction was piqued by another Bauhaus master, Paul Klee, though not through his lessons as much as 'through observing what he did with a line, a point or a stroke of the paintbrush, and I tried to some extent to find my own direction through my own material and my own artistic discipline' (interview with Anni Albers, 1968, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution).

From now on, the couple are rarely parted. In 1928 they both move from their studio flats in the Prellerhaus into one half of a duplex in the complex of Masters’ Houses, and in 1932 from the Bauhaus Dessau to the Bauhaus in Berlin. When the National Socialists come to power in 1933, they emigrate to the USA. Josef Albers had been appointed as a lecturer at the renowned Black Mountain College and Anni, while still working on her weaving and writing, likewise began to teach there from 1939. In 1949 Josef and Anni Albers left Black Mountain College and moved to Connecticut. Anni Albers continued to work on her textile designs, weaving and writing and later also drawing. She and her husband made numerous journeys to Mexico and South America from the 1930s to the 1970s, and these were an important source of inspiration for her multifaceted creative work. Here, in the countries where abstraction originated, Anni Albers studied traditional weaving patterns and techniques. In 1965 she published the results of her forays into the theory and practice of weaving, its history and significance, in the seminal book 'On Weaving'.

Anni Albers continued to work on textile designs and with printing techniques up to her death in 1994. She was the first female textile artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art New York (1949); a number of further exhibitions followed. Anni Albers received numerous awards for her work, as well as an honorary doctorate.

 

[AG 2015]

 

Literature:
Danilowitz, Brenda (2013): Das Strenge und das Andere, in: Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau (2013), Bauhaus Magazin 5.
Müller, Ulrike (2009): Bauhaus-Frauen. Meisterinnen in Kunst, Handwerk und Design, Munich.
Rochner, Renate (2016): Anni Albers, http://www.fembio.org/biographie.php/frau/biographie/anni-albers/ (06.06.2016).
Schell, Maximilian (1989): Anni und Josef Albers. Eine Retrospektive, Munich.
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation: Biographies, http://albersfoundation.org/artists/biographies/ (06.06.2016).
Weber, Nicholas Fox & Pandora Tabatabai Asbaghi (1999): Anni Albers. Retrospektive zum 100. Geburtstag, New York.