When Anni Albers entered the German art school Bauhaus in the 1920s, she enrolled on the textile courses. Women were discouraged from learning carpentry, painting and metalwork, so weaving was one of the few options left. In the forthcoming years, Albers would become one of the most influential textile artists of the 1900s.
Albers moved from student to teacher at the school. Combining traditional and innovative materials such as cotton, cellophane, jute and twisted paper, Albers created modernist designs that played with texture, weight, colour, space and light.
Albers is known for introducing innovative materials to textiles as well as for bringing textiles into the art canon. Weaving has been practiced for centuries, and the Western world has deemed it women’s work. She brought textile work to the forefront of culture as an important art form.
The artist’s textiles feature crisscrossing lines and shapes woven on a loom, which progressed as she moved from teaching at Bauhaus to Black Mountain College and worked on individual projects. She molded her thin fibers into thick geometric patterns; she tricked the eye with colour; she used maths to lay out her designs, creating pieces so smooth they could be mistaken for the paintings teachers had discouraged her from creating in years past.
During her years at Bauhaus, Albers studied with a cohort of women, including weavers Gunta Stolzl, Otti Berger and Lena Meyer-Bergner. It was at this school that Albers also met her husband Josef Albers, who has often overshadowed her in the historical narrative of the school. However, in 1949 she was the first designer to have a solo exhibition at MoMA, male or female. Albers continued to create art until her death at age 95 in 1994. She switched from the tasking process of weaving to printmaking during the last 30 years of her life.
More than 15 years before exhibiting at MoMA, Albers had already transformed the Bauhaus textile department. Textiles became commercially successful, one of the few Bauhaus art forms to do so, and the art continued to grow. Albers showed that a woman can manoeuvre an unjust environment to forge a path for equality — just as she wove threads to create massive textile designs, Albers wove the perception of an inferior art into something grandiose on a historical scale.
Anni Albers is on at Tate Modern until 27 January 2019.