Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living”
Oct. 1, 2004 through Feb. 27, 2005
“Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living,” an exhibition chronicling the Alberses’ extraordinary designs for objects for everyday living, will be on view Oct. 1, 2004 and continue through Feb. 27, 2005, at Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Curated by Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, “Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living” explores the domestic creations of these pioneering artists from the early 1920s through the 1950s, as their designs developed from their days as students in Germany’s famed Bauhaus School to their arrival upon the American scene. The exhibition reveals the full extent of the Alberses’ mutual aesthetic commitment, perpetual creativity and contribution to modern living.
Josef Albers (1888-1976) was one of the most pioneering and respected artists of his era, excelling as a painter, printmaker, designer, writer and teacher. His wife Anni (1899-1994) is considered by many to be the foremost textile artist of the 20th century. Although the pair did not collaborate artistically, they shared a vision and developed a design philosophy that helped to transform the look of the modern domestic interior. Anni and Josef embraced the fundamental idea that everyday life can be enhanced and enriched through design. Individually, their work displayed brilliance and versatility; together, their shared aesthetic formed an enduring legacy, which, until now, has scarcely been known to the public. The seminal ideas of these partners in life and design will be explored for the first time through the domestic objects featured in this exhibition.
Subscribing to the belief that art is everywhere, Josef and Anni designed an array of innovative furniture, textiles and tabletop objects not only for themselves but also for use by others in their social and artistic circle, including Walter Gropius, founder of the influential Bauhaus. “Designs for Living” will include several domestic creations developed in their Dessau (Germany) Bauhaus apartment and in Berlin, many of which have never been shown publicly.
Josef Albers has been the subject of numerous retrospectives at major institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was the first living artist ever to be given a one-person show, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Josef Albers was one of the few students to be made a Junior Master at the Dessau Bauhaus and was an active instructor until 1933, when the school closed under pressure from the Nazis. Later that year, Josef and Anni emigrated to Black Mountain College—a groundbreaking institution in North Carolina, known as a nurturing ground for such cultural icons as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller. In 1950 they moved to Connecticut, where Josef headed the Department of Design at Yale University. In the last 25 years of his life, Josef obtained an international reputation for his “Homage to the Square” paintings as well as for his teachings and writings on color.
Featured in “Josef and Anni Albers: Designs for Living” are dozens of Josef’s objects, ranging from holiday greeting cards to glass-top nesting tables, all of which are simple in form and radiant in color. Josef’s extraordinary ability to use a lean aesthetic vocabulary and minimal means to obtain complex results is demonstrated through the exhibition of items such as his fruit bowl and tea glass, glass paintings, LP album covers and fireplace designs. Also on view together, for the first time, will be furniture designed by Josef for the Moellenhoff apartment in Berlin―his first major furniture commission.
Anni Albers has influenced generations of designers through her weavings as well as through her teaching and writing. She entered the Bauhaus in 1922 as a student and in 1930 briefly served as director of its weaving workshop. In those early years Anni was already gaining recognition as a major artist and designer from contemporaries such as Sonia Delaunay. After arriving in America, she took her textile work in unprecedented directions and began to exercise great influence in the field. In 1949, Anni was commissioned by architect Philip Johnson to design curtains for the stylish guesthouse of the John D. Rockefeller III family. Later that year, she became the first textile artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has been honored with several retrospectives at major institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre in Paris. Today, Anni’s textiles continue to influence, inspire and delight as new generations are introduced to her work.
On view will be many of Anni’s austere and experimental designs from her years at the Bauhaus, as well as the more playful and exuberant examples from her years in the United States. More than 50 examples of her textiles and designs, some of which have never been shown before, will be featured in the exhibition, including: the Rockefeller guesthouse draperies; wall hangings that were pioneering forays into abstract art; jewelry made from ordinary objects such as paper clips and sink strainers; and a large sampling of her upholstery and drapery materials and other fabrics for everyday living.
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