Born in Berlin in 1899, Anni Albers is part of a crop of women designers whose work has failed to be written into the largely male-dominated history of modern art and design – at least up until now. The German artist’s first major retrospective has just gone on display at the Tate Modern as part of a collaborative project with Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf.
The exhibition joins a number of other recent retrospectives spotlighting the work of under-recognised women from the art and design world, including nun and artist Corita Kent, and British designer and printmaker Enid Marx.
Albers’ artistic career began when she went to study at German art school Bauhaus in 1922, where she would meet her future husband, artist and educator Josef Albers, along with other famous modernist figures such as Paul Klee.
Although Bauhaus was known at the time for promoting gender equality, women were still discouraged from certain areas such as painting, and so Albers ended up in the realm of weaving by default.
It was textiles (another area of the creative industries largely reserved for women at the time) where she eventually found her calling though, and she dedicated herself to the medium for a large part of her career.
Albers became known for her ‘pictorial weavings’ that blurred the lines between the traditional craft of hand-weaving and the aesthetic of modern art, many of which are being shown for the first time in the UK as part of the 350-strong display at the Tate.
One of Albers’ better-known works included is Six Prayers 1966-67, her memorial for the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, commissioned by the Jewish Museum in New York. But there are also more obscure pieces on display, including designs for a large wall-hanging at the modernist Camino Real hotel in Mexico City from 1968.
While Albers has previously been featured in a number of design museums, the Tate Modern show marks one of the first times that her textile-focused work has been recognised in the same way by the art world.
“Historically, artworks by women artists were not acknowledged as widely as their male counterparts and textile was also not considered as seriously as other art forms within the art world,” says Tate Modern curator Priyesh Mistry. “Yet we know that in her practice Albers never sought to delineate the different purposes of her weaving practice as she considered each piece, commission or collaboration in equal measure. Her lifelong practice was an enquiry of weaving as a modern project in all its forms.”
Given the work that is currently being done to readdress the gender imbalance in art and design with exhibitions, now felt like the right time to spotlight Albers’ multidisciplinary work that in many respects was ahead of its time, Mistry adds.
“Albers was a highly original artist working in modernist abstraction, and her enduring influence continues to inspire generations of artists and designers across the globe. The exhibition will put Albers in the spotlight as much as it will promote weaving, an ancient craft and art form, as a modernist medium.”
Anni Albers is on display at Tate Modern until January 27, 2019; tate.org.uk