Long live Anni Albers: L.A. show pays homage to an overshadowed Bauhaus artist
If there were any justice in this world, those hearing the name Albers would ask “which one?” rather than assume a reference to Josef, the painter, color theorist and influential teacher. The other Albers — Anni (1899-1994) — hasn’t occupied as much of the art historical limelight, for the maddeningly usual reasons: She was a woman, and she worked in a medium historically associated with craft and utility more than art.
When Albers enrolled at the Bauhaus in 1922, where she met future husband Josef, she was steered away from painting, toward weaving. She proceeded to reinvent and vitalize the field through her own work, writing and teaching, all of which embodied vigorous experimentation and respect for ancient tradition. In 1949 she was the first weaver to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art.
“Material Meaning: A Living Legacy of Anni Albers” at the Craft in America Center in L.A. pays homage to her spirit and methods. The show features textile work by 10 contemporary artists (not incidentally, all women), each piece annotated with a few words about its relationship to something Albers practiced or taught. Personal statements by each artist further reflect on Albers as inspiration and implicit mentor. The show, guest-curated by Cameron Taylor-Brown, is steeped in reverence and spiked with formal ingenuity.
What can be said of Albers’ work carries over to many of the pieces here, most of them what she called “pictorial weavings,” meant for no other use than visual delectation. Sculptural qualities of texture and touch fuse with the attributes of design — pattern, rhythm, order and the deliberate, dynamic deviation from it.
In her “Weaving No. 12, the Leyland Collection” (2016), Rachel Snack whispers a small poem in charcoal grays, an elegant declamation in rhyming shapes and subtle anomalies.
Brittany Wittman McLaughlin’s “Birch Bark” (2016) square is an acute tactile snapshot, an impression of one remarkable surface invoked via another.
In the exuberant “Paragon” (2017), Christy Matson stages a dance of diamonds across the woven plane, each shape slightly twisted and aflutter. The soft linen, cotton and wool strands keep company with a thicker, reed-like brown fiber, identified as paper, whose assertively different texture and tempo enliven the surface even more.
This year marks the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus, and institutions worldwide including the Getty Research Institute here have programs honoring the school’s enduring significance. The Tate Modern held a rare Albers retrospective on the occasion. “Material Meaning” is a modest addition to the slate — no less earnest, and plenty enriching.
'Material Meaning: A Living Legacy of Anni Albers'
Where: Craft in America Center, 8415 W. Third St., L.A.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Sept. 21
Info: (323) 951-0610, www.craftinamerica.org
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