This autumn, the artist Anni Albers will be the focus of a new exhibition at Tate Modern. It will be the first major retrospective of her work to be held in Britain and on show will be over 350 works of art created by Albers, including the weavings for which she was best known. It is, as the press release states, “a long overdue recognition for her pivotal contribution to modern art and design”.
Anni Albers was born Annelise Fleischmann in Berlin in 1899 into a Jewish assimilated family – her father was a furniture manufacturer whilst her mother’s family were the famous publishers Ullstein. Although both families had converted to Protestantism years earlier and Anni had been baptised, her Jewish background would become critical in the 1930s. A rebellious young woman who longed to study art rather than marry and start a family, she became a student at the Bauhaus, a recently opened radical school of art and design in Weimar. Despite the Bauhaus’ aspiration to equality between the sexes, women were in fact discouraged from learning certain disciplines, and Albers’ attempts to join the stained glass workshop were thwarted. She agreed to study weaving instead.
Albers is perhaps an unusual choice of subject for a Tate retrospective; an exhibition focused on textiles would in the past have probably found a more natural home at the V&A or the Design Museum. However, in the words of Nicholas Fox Weber, the executive director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and close friend of the artist, “Anni transformed into an art form what in other hands was merely design work. She elevated textiles and the status of woven threads and put the medium on equal footing with oil on canvas and watercolour on paper.” In the exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern director Frances Morris stresses her importance to Modernism: “As a weaver, Albers connected one of the oldest human cultural techniques with the modern artistic language of the time.” The exhibition curator Ann Coxon explains that showing artists who worked with textiles is a new priority at Tate Modern: “We have always had a commitment at Tate Modern to broadening the range of media we display. What we wanted to do being an art museum, was to show Alber’s work in an art context, not a craft or design or applied arts context. This is very much exploring Anni Albers the artist. It is about recognising that there are artists in the 20th century who happen to have been using textiles as their primary medium. But they are still artists and we have a duty to reflect that.”