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What’s Behind a Name? Insight into Anni Albers Textiles

Anni Albers is regarded as one of the best-known textile artists of the 20th century. She was essential in the development of contemporary textile art.

Born Annelise Fleischmann, Anni Albers was of Jewish descent and lived in Berlin. Despite living conditions for art students being incredibly poor, Anni decided to attend Bauhaus to follow her intrigue of art and painting. This was a contrast to the comfortable life she was used to – women were banned from certain classes taught at the school, and Albers resorted to weaving after she was unable to get into a glass workshop. Despite this, Albers quickly began to embrace the tactile construction challenges of the medium. In 1931, Albers became head of the weaving workshop and her and husband Josef Albers (an instructor at the school), became central to Bauhaus teaching.

Anni Albers weaving and artworks revolutionised textile design, through her exploration of both handloom produced and mechanically produced pieces. Her innovation of fabric design for mass-production as well as her experimentation with more artistic work led to critically acclaimed exhibitions, and the study of her work to this day.

Works of Albers include woven wall hangings, bedspreads, mounted images and printed textile designs. Although Albers produced numerous important designs and artworks throughout her life, three of her works stand out in particular.

Untitled Wall Hanging 1926, Synthetic Silk and Synthetic Fibres

Contrasting to her colleagues, Albers preferred a palette of neutral colours when producing woven work. She focused more on geometric designs and weaving techniques rather than vibrant colours. It was works such as these which were some of the most successful pieces to come out of the Bauhaus.

In this piece, Albers explores the combination of weaving techniques and modern design, created from new synthetic fibres such as artificial silk. These materials would eventually become common in the textile industry, particularly for mass-produced pieces – reflecting her notion of creating pieces which could become models for mass production.

Necklace 1941, Metal Chain, Dish Drain, Paper Clips

It was whilst teaching in North Carolina after moving to America in 1933, that Albers began working with other materials such as jewellery. Inspired by pre-Columbian jewellery seen on a trip to Mexico, Albers began designing objects with her student Alex Reed based on household objects, looking at the idea of ‘anti-precious’ jewellery. The explorative project used items such as chains, pins, nuts and ribbons to play with the materiality of objects. Popular expectations of jewellery being expensive caused critique from their peers, but simply emphasizes their point more. Generally, the jewellery was well received for its imaginative work.

Six Prayers 1965-6, Cotton, Linen, Bast and Silver Thread

Albers was commissioned by The Jewish Museum in 1965 by creating a piece of artwork as a memorial for those who died in the holocaust. Albers used a neutral palette with silver thread to create six pieces of abstract textile works to create a contemplative installation. The pieces are open to allow viewers to think and find meanings in the space, whilst recalling the shapes of burial markers. The width of the work at 6 ft. is a reference to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

The weave creates a wandering pattern with the threads varying against the grid structure. The non-uniform weave reflects the idea of ‘tikkun’, the notion of ‘social repair’ to Jewish identity.

Currently, Anni Albers’ work is being exhibited at the Guggenheim Bilbao, and in 2018 a retrospective of her greatest pieces will be coming to the Tate Modern.

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