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Bauhaus artists celebrated in new Paris exhibition with never-before-seen work

October 3, 2021, 9:00 AM UTC

The Albers Foundation in New England is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a limited-time retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne Paris honoring Bauhaus artists, Josef and Anni Albers.

Running through January 9, 2022, “Anni et Josef Albers. L’art et la vie” features more than 500 works of art. The exhibition intends to tell the intimate story of the artists as a couple and showcase some of their most popular collaborations with familiar brands, such as French fashion house Hermès and British textile craftsman Christopher Farr.

Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of the Albers Foundation, says the exhibition is the realization of a dream that started 50 years ago. “Our objective is to show their relationship rather than show distinct parallels,” explains Weber. “Not that they resembled each other as artists, but in a personal way, they did.”

With this in mind, most of their art pieces are arranged separately, although the movement of the exhibition follows the timeline of their lives from the Bauhaus to the United States as well as significant influential trips to Latin America. “We kept the rooms with their work separate,” says Weber, who first met the couple in 1971 while a graduate student studying art history at Yale. “They wouldn’t have wanted a constant compare and contrast.”

L’art et la vie, exposition Anni et Joseph Albers, Paris MAM 2021.
Courtesy of The Albers Foundation/Paris MAM

The Albers created hundreds of pieces of work, including the Homage to the Square series that have adorned the walls of some of the most iconic places around the world, including the White House under the Obama administration as well several major art museums in New York City, including the Guggenheim, The Brooklyn Museum, The Modern Museum of Art (MoMA), The Whitney, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Josef worked mostly with paints and photography, while Anni thrived with tapestries and paper, although both artists were known to be resourceful by implementing unexpected and discarded objects into their work. “They were alchemists, they had this ability to take materials and give them new life,” Weber describes. “They were endlessly playful. You see that in his etchings and her weavings.”

A selection of furniture by Josef Albers.
Courtesy of The Albers Foundation/Paris MAM

The couple first met in Weimar, Germany in 1922 at the Bauhaus, the legendary German art school that was open from 1919 to 1933. They were married in Berlin in 1925, and eventually moved to North Carolina after an invitation to prepare the visual arts curriculum at Black Mountain College. (Weber notes Josef was instrumental in hiring the first Black faculty member, Jacob Lawrence, at Black Mountain College, which he underscores was an endeavor during the Jim Crow era of lynchings in the South.) The Alberses moved to Connecticut in 1950, and for the next eight years, Josef Albers was chairman of the Department of Design at the Yale University School of Art.

“There’s a lot of discussion as to which of the Albers was more recognized,” Weber acknowledges. “It’s true her [recognition] wasn’t as great as his.” But, as Weber notes, Anni was the first woman to have a solo exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in 1949. “Her textile work, the ability she had with her hand was uncanny, the skill of hand was vital.”

A selection of tapestries weaved by Anni Albers.
Courtesy of The Albers Foundation/Paris MAM

In 1971, Josef Albers established a not-for-profit organization to further “the revelation and evocation of vision through art.” Today, The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation serves as a center for appreciation of the arts and visual experiences. The Foundation carries out its mission by working on exhibitions and publications, primarily focused on the art of Josef and Anni Albers, while also assisting with research and supporting education for artists, scholars, students, and the general public. Josef died in 1976, and Anni died in 1994.

The Albers Foundation is based in Bethany, Conn., a 25-minute drive northwest from New Haven. The campus, surrounded by a woodland enclosure, includes a central research and archival storage center to accommodate the Foundation’s art collections, library, and archives, and as well as residence studios for visiting artists and a venue for educational outreach programs. The rural site was established primarily thanks to funds acquired by Anni for the restitution of family property in the former East Berlin.

‘He could take pure color, put it on a background, and make pure rhythm,’ Weber says of Josef’s paintings.
Courtesy of The Albers Foundation/Paris MAM

A number of the pieces of the exhibition have never before been shown to the public, including dozens of photographs found in Josef’s office after he died and a very moving series of tapestries and doors, which Anni weaved in the 1960s to honor the six million Jewish people who were murdered during the Holocaust. Weber describes her tapestries as being able to “communicate without words, but communicate them through thread.”

The Ark Panels woven by Anni Albers in 1962 for Temple B’nai Israel, Woonsocket, R.I.
Courtesy of The Albers Foundation/Paris MAM

Visitors to the Musée d’Art Moderne Paris should note that reservations are required for the exhibition. In accordance with France’s COVID regulations, a valid health pass (known in France as the Pass Sanitaire and elsewhere in Europe as the Green Pass) must be presented at the museum entrance for admission.

After the exhibition wraps up in Paris, it will next go on tour to the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (IVAM) in Spain. But it remains to be determined if it will be shown in the United States, although Weber hints that’s not for a lack of trying. Once the exhibition is completed, many of the pieces will be incorporated into a large donation to the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris. Some pieces are on loan from a variety of galleries, including the Josef Albers Museum in Bottrop, Germany. The rest will return to the Albers Foundation archives in Connecticut.

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