APRIL 14 At MoMA, Women at Play in the Fields of Abstraction Holland Cotter, New York Times

APRIL 3 The Women of the Bauhaus School Alexxa Gotthardt, Artsy

MARCH 3 Josef Albers: Art to Open Eyes Nicholas Fox Weber, The New York Review of Books

JANUARY 30 Bauhaus Masters Josef and Anni Albers Obsessively Collected South American Art Meredith Mendelsohn, Artsy

JANUARY 17 Sunny Side Up: Josef Albers' Yellow Paintings Look on the Bright Side Ali Morris, Wallpaper*

Anni Albers
Tapestry, 1948
handwoven linen and cotton
16 1/2 x 18 3/4 in. (41.9 x 47.6 cm)
Museum of Modern Art, New York

At MoMA, Women at Play in the Fields of Abstraction

Funnily enough, the Museum of Modern Art has never named the long-running blockbuster show that fills its permanent-collection galleries. So I'll name it: "Modern White Guys: The Greatest Art Story Ever Invented." What the museum does name are the occasional temporary exhibitions that offer an alternative to that story. Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction is the latest, and a stimulating alternative it is.

Abstraction is a foundational subject for MoMA. The institution was basically conceived on the premise that this is the mode to which all advanced art aspires. But the work in Making Space, dating from the end of World War II to the beginning of second-wave feminism, is not really representative of the museum historically. For one thing, of course, it's all by women. And it's by artists of diverse geographic and ethnic backgrounds. Unsurprisingly, much of what's here is late in arriving at MoMA. Several pieces from Latin America, given by the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, came just last year.

In its diversity and in other ways, Making Space escapes the old MoMA formula, though in certain other ways it adheres to it. We begin on what looks like familiar ground. The show's first section, "Gestural Abstraction," is dominated by two brushy, wall-filling paintings—one by Lee Krasner, the other by Joan Mitchell—of a kind that has been a staple at the museum since the 1940s. Both artists are big names but, you note, they are not quite big enough to rate fixed placement beside Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline in the permanent Abstract Expressionist galleries.

So the show starts in what feels like honorable-mention mode. But it doesn't stay there. Instead, it goes for difference and sticks with it, introducing us to artists we may not know or have an institutional context for. We meet one right off the bat, the Lebanese-born American painter-poet Etel Adnan, whom many New Yorkers—and possibly MoMA—first learned about only through the New Museum's 2014 survey of art from the so-called Arab world.

Ms. Adnan's painting, with its little central rainbow banner, signals that the abstraction by women in this show will not be just Euro-American, but global. And a second picture, this one a 1960s collage painting by the African-American artist Alma Woodsey Thomas, suggests that it will be racially inclusive, too. So, already, old MoMA barriers are leapt.

Even more interestingly, the Thomas piece complicates the idea of what "gestural" means. It's done in the artist's usual mosaic-like blocks of color, but on narrow strips of paper, joined by staples and masking tape. The result is not painting as a gush of I-am-here ego or emotion. It's a construction, a sort of funky one. And it is personally expressive, though in ways hard to pin down.

A lot about the show is hard to pin down, which is its strength. The famous flowchart of Modern art's evolution plotted by MoMA's first director, Alfred Barr, and still reflected in the show's section labels—"Geometric Abstraction," "Eccentric Abstraction," etc.—simply doesn't apply here. There's too much genius irregularity—aesthetic, personal and political—on view to fit any prefab template.

It's important to know, for example, that the exquisite, centrifugally spinning collages of the New York artist Anne Ryan (1889-1954) were inspired as much by life as by other art. Each of these sparkling visual salads of fabric, paper and thread reflects the artist's work as a seamstress (she made all her clothes) and a cook (she opened a Greenwich Village restaurant) as much as her interest in Pollock and Kurt Schwitters. (Ryan fans will not want to miss a splendid gallery show dedicated to her at Davis and Langdale Company through April 22.)

In a section called "Geometric Abstraction" are several 1950s works from Latin America, though whether they embody Modernist order and balance is a question. The opposite seems to be true in a crazily tilting iron sculpture by the German-born Venezuelan artist called Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt). And while the interlocking black and white forms in a 1957 painting by the Brazilian Lygia Clark are in perfect alignment, their angled shapes convey a sense of psychological menace—like sharp teeth in a closing jaw—that MoMA's 2014 Clark retrospective entirely smoothed over.

And what view of Modernist rationality lies behind the work of the Czech artist Bela Kolarova? Working in Prague under a repressive political regime in the 1960s, she created photographs of circular forms that look like drains in a giant sink, and made relief paintings that bristle with potentially finger-slicing grids of metal paper fasteners.

The grid as a form gets an impressive pre-Minimalist workout in 1940s room dividers made of cellophane and horsehair by the incomparable weaver, printmaker, art historian, philosopher, teacher, theorist and life-student Anni Albers. Eleanore Mikus melts and molds the grid in a 1964 relief. And Lenore Tawney bends, twists and lightens it in her Little River Wall Hanging.

In the 1950s, Ms. Tawney lived in Lower Manhattan, where she counted Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Indiana and Agnes Martin (who is also in the MoMA show) as neighbors. Living in an old shipping loft, she made the most radical work of any of them: towering open-warp fiber pieces that stretched from floor to ceiling and across the loft's wide space. Yet, in 1990, when she finally had a retrospective, it took place not at MoMA, but at the American Craft Museum, which was then across the street.

Have things changed much for art by women at MoMA? Ms. Tawney's work is now visible there, but in set-aside circumstances. This is the way historical work by women is usually shown there, in occasional roundups, like the one assembled by the painter Elizabeth Murray in 1995, or the larger Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, or now in Making Space, organized by the MoMA curators Starr Figura and Sarah Meister, with Hillary Reder, a curatorial assistant.

These shows are invariably moving, surprising and adventurous. The present one certainly is. But they have too easily become a new normal, an acceptable way to show women but keep them segregated from the permanent-collection galleries. In other words, they are a way to keep MoMA's old and false, but coherent and therefore salable, story of Modernism intact.

Things may be changing. The old model may slowly be breaking up as the reality of Modernism as an international phenomenon, pan-cultural yet locally distinctive, becomes more widely known. And that knowledge can't help confirming the reality that work by women, feminists or not, was the major inventive force propelling and shaping late-20th-century art.

It's time to integrate that force into the museum fabric, into the permanent-collection galleries that remain MoMA's great popular draw. How to create the new mix? Experiment. Put Anne Ryan next to Schwitters and Pollock and 1950s fabric designs by Vera (Vera Neumann), and see how that shakes out, historically and atmospherically. Introduce a body-adjusting chair by the great Italian-Brazilian artist-designer Lina Bo Bardi to the body-obsessed sculpture of Constantin Brancusi. Put Ruth Asawa's porous, basket-like wire sculptures up against Richard Serra's fortresslike walls. Let Alma Woodsey Thomas and Mondrian meet and talk about masking tape and useful beauty.

Naturally, some people will have a problem with all this. A politically minded eroticist like the Italian artist Carol Rama (1918-2015), who has a fantastic piece called Spurting Out in the current MoMA show (and a retrospective at the New Museum coming at the end of the month), scares the pants off traditionalists, because what do you do with her? Where does she fit in? How can you make her make White Guy sense? You can't.

Anyway, it's time to give the White Guys a rest. They're looking tired. And the moment is auspicious. MoMA is expanding; the only ethical justification for doing so that I can see is to show art it hasn't shown before, to write a broader, realer story, one that might even, in truth, be great. Construction is still in progress, but plans for the new history can start right now. Go see the work by women in Making Space, then go to MoMA's permanent-collection galleries and start mentally moving in their art.


Hazel Larsen Archer, Anni Albers, ca. 1948. Image courtesy of Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Charlotte (Lotte) Stam-Beese, Otti Berger and Atelierhaus, 1930. Gift of Manfred Heiting, The Manfred Heiting Collection. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. © Estate of Lotte Stam-Besse; Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp; Gunta Stölzl in the Bauhaus weaving studio.

The Women of the Bauhaus School

The male icons of the early-20th-century Bauhaus school, like Josef Albers,László Moholy-Nagy, and Paul Klee, are some of the most celebrated pioneers of modern art. But the women artists who taught, studied, and made groundbreaking work with them are often remembered in history books as wives of their male counterparts or, worse, not at all.

While women were allowed into the German school—and its manifesto stated that it welcomed "any person of good repute, without regard to age or sex"—a strong gender bias still informed its structure. Female students, for instance, were encouraged to pursue weaving rather than male-dominated mediums like painting, carving, and architecture. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius encouraged this distinction through his vocal belief that men thought in three dimensions, while women could only handle two.

The year 2019 will mark the 100th birthday of the Bauhaus. As that date approaches, this bias toward the school's male students is being revised, and its many integral female members recognized by scholarship and institutional exhibitions. Weavers, industrial designers, photographers, and architects like Anni Albers, Marianne Brandt, and Gertrud Arndt not only advanced the school's historic marriage of art and function; they were also essential in laying the groundwork for centuries of art and design innovation to come after them.

Below, we highlight 10 female Bauhaus members who contributed fundamental work, instruction, and innovation to the school over the course of its relatively short existence, between 1919 and 1933, and bolstered its lasting legacy.

Anni Albers (1899–1994)

Albers arrived at the Bauhaus in 1922, with the hope of continuing the painting studies that she had begun at the School of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg. By 1923, however, she was spending most of her time in the school's weaving workshop, where she became a quick master of the loom. Influenced by Paul Klee and "what he did with a line, a point or a stroke of the paintbrush," Albers used weaving to develop a signature visual vocabulary of hard-edged patterns. Her early tapestries would go on to have a considerable impact on the development of geometric abstraction in the visual arts, along with the work of several of her Bauhaus peers, including her husband, Josef Albers, who she met at the school.

Albers explored the functional possibilities of textiles with focus and passion; in 1930, she designed a cotton and cellophane curtain that simultaneously absorbed sound and reflected light. In 1931, she was appointed to helm the weaving workshop and became one of the first women at the Bauhaus to assume a leadership role. Several years after immigrating to the U.S. in 1933, she began to teach at the influential Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Albers became famous for the fabrics she crafted for large-scale companies like Knoll. She was also the first female textile artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1949.

Marianne Brandt (1893–1983)

Brandt's early work so impressed László Moholy-Nagy that, in 1924, he opened a space for her in the metal workshop, a discipline that women had previously been barred from. She went on to design some of the most iconic works associated with the Bauhaus. These include an ashtray that resembles a halved metal ball, an edition of which is housed in MoMA's collection, and a silver tea infuser and strainer, which was her first student design and today is owned by both the Met and the British Museum, among other institutions.

During her years at the Bauhaus, Brandt became one of Germany's most celebrated industrial designers. And after Moholy-Nagy stepped down as head of the metal workshop in 1928, it was Brandt who replaced him, beating out her male counterparts for the position. During the same year, she developed one of the most commercially successful objects to come out of the school: the best-selling Kandem bedside table lamp. After leaving the Bauhaus in 1929, Brandt became director of the design department for the metalware company Ruppelwerk Metallwarenfabrik GmbH.

Gertrud Arndt (1903–2000)

Arndt's ambition was to become an architect, but it was only after she landed at the Bauhaus in 1923 that she realized architecture classes were not yet available at the school. She ended up crafting geometrically patterned rugs in the weaving workshop. One of these textiles famously decorated the floor of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius's office. But despite Arndt's success at the loom, it was her photography practice, which she honed outside of the structured Bauhaus workshops, that would become most influential to modern and contemporary artists.

As a self-taught photographer, Arndt began by shooting the buildings and urban landscapes around her. She also assisted her husband's architecture firm by photographing their construction sites and buildings. It was Arndt's series of imaginative self-portraits titled "Mask Portraits," however, that ultimately shaped her legacy. The series—which shows Arndt performing a range of traditional female roles, and wearing a profusion of veils, lace, and hats—is now seen as an important precursor to feminist artists like Cindy Sherman.

Gunta Stölzl (1897–1983)

Stölzl was one of the earliest Bauhaus members, arriving at the school in 1919 at the age of 22. The same year, she penned confident diary entries that would foreshadow her success as a leading designer of the era. "Nothing hinders me in my outward life, I can shape it as I will," one reads. "A new beginning. A new life begins," goes another. While she experimented with a diverse range of disciplines at the Bauhaus, Stölzl focused on weaving, a department that she helmed from 1926 to 1931. There, she was known for complex patchworks of patterns, composed of undulating lines that melt into kaleidoscopic mosaics of colored squares. They took the form of rugs, wall tapestries, and coverings for Marcel Breuer's chairs.

After being driven from Germany by the Nazi regime for marrying a Jewish man, fellow Bauhaus student Arieh Sharon, Stölzl established the hand-weaving company S-P-H-Stoffe in Zurich with former Bauhaus peers Gertrud Preiswerk and Heinrich-Otto Hürlimann. She ran the company until 1967 and designed countless popular carpets and woven textiles. "We wanted to create living things with contemporary relevance, suitable for a new style of life," she once said. "It was essential to define our imaginary world, to shape our experiences through material, rhythm, proportion, color and form."

Benita Koch-Otte (1892–1976)

Koch-Otte had already taught drawing and handicraft at a girls' secondary school for five years before she joined the Bauhaus, shifting her focus to her own studies. There, with fellow weaver and painter Stölzl, Koch-Otte used textiles to explore new approaches to abstraction. To further develop their skills, the two also took classes at the nearby Dyeing Technical School and the Textile Technical School.

Koch-Otte married the director of the Bauhaus photography department, Heinrich Koch, in 1929. Together, they relocated to Prague when the Nazi regime rose to power. After her husband's unexpected death, however, Koch-Otte returned to Germany. There, she became director of a textile mill, and continued to teach until the very end of her life—and her fabrics are still in production today.

Otti Berger (1898–1944)

Berger was one of the most creative members of the weaving workshop, with a more expressive and conceptual approach than that of many of her contemporaries. After Stölzl abdicated her seat as head of the department in 1931, Berger assumed the position and established her own curriculum, but remained there only until 1932, when she set out on her own.

Berger went on to open her own textile atelier in Berlin, and began the process of applying for a visa, with the goal of relocating to the U.S. There, she planned to join Moholy-Nagy's New Bauhaus school in Chicago and escape Hitler's regime (she was Jewish), but her application stalled. While waiting for approval, she returned to Croatia, where she was arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz. She died there in 1944, but her fabrics live on in collections from the Met to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ilse Fehling (1896–1982)

Fehling had a natural talent for creating sculptural forms and theater designs, skills that she honed further while at the Bauhaus. There, she took classes with painter Paul Klee and sculptor Oskar Schlemmer, among others, between 1920 to 1923. Her objects and theater sets married whimsy and function; in 1922, she patented a rotating round stage for stick puppets.

After leaving the Bauhaus, she moved to Berlin and established a multifaceted freelance practice, splitting her time between concocting costume and stage designs and sculptures, the latter of which were celebrated in a solo show at Fritz Gurlitt Gallery in 1927. After studying in Rome in the early 1930s, Fehling returned to Germany, where her sculptures—forged in metal and stone and fusing cubism and corporeality—were deemed "degenerate." She pushed on, continuing to develop her diverse oeuvre throughout her long life.

Alma Siedhoff-Buscher (1899–1944)

Siedhoff-Buscher was one of the Bauhaus's few women to switch from the weaving workshop to the male-dominated wood-sculpture department. There, she invented a number of successful toy and furniture designs, including her "small ship-building game," which remains in production today. The game manifested Bauhaus's central tenets: its 22 blocks, forged in primary colors, could be constructed into the shape of a boat, but could also be rearranged to allow for creative experimentation. The toy could also be easily reproduced.

Siedhoff-Buscher also became known for the cut-out kits and coloring books she designed for publisher Verlag Otto Maier Ravensburg. But her most pioneering work proved to be the interior she designed for a children's room at "Haus am Horn," a home designed by Bauhaus members that exemplified the movement's aesthetic. Siedhoff-Buscher filled it with modular, washable white furniture. She designed each piece to "grow" with the child: a puppet theater could be transformed into bookshelves, a changing table into a desk.

Margarete Heymann (1899–1990)

At just 21 years old, Heymann refused to follow the majority of her female peers into the Bauhaus's weaving workshop, convincing Gropius to open up a place for her in ceramics. There, the young, free-thinking artist began to create angular objects, composed of triangles and circles and spangled with constructivist patterns and colorful glazes. She left just a year later, though, after butting heads with her teacher Gerhard Marcks.

Heymann and her husband went on to establish a workshop, Haël-Werkstätten, that produced her designs. They were a quick hit, selling at chic shops in Europe, Britain, and the U.S. alike, but Heymann was forced to sell the company in 1934. As European political conflict stirred, Heymann, who was Jewish, fled to England to escape persecution. There, she established a new company, Greta pottery, and would later devote her days to painting.

Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp (1901–1976)

Like many of her Bauhaus contemporaries, Scheper-Berkenkamp was a passionate colorist, an interest she pushed in the school's mural painting workshop, where she was one of only several women. Her work took her to Moscow with her husband, Bauhaus peer Hinnerk Scheper, where the couple established an "Advisory Centre for Colour in Architecture and the Cityscape," and concocted color schemes for the exteriors and interiors of buildings across the Russian capital.

After the Bauhaus shuttered in 1933, Scheper-Berkenkamp worked as a freelance painter in Berlin and published a number of whimsical children's books, coming-of-age narratives told through the lens of fantastical adventures. Tales like "The Stories of Jan and Jon and their Pilot Fish" (1947) are today considered part of the children's book canon. They were some of the first to pair surrealistic drawings with outlandish plots; two of the books have recently been re-released by the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin.

After her husband's death, Scheper-Berkenkamp took over his color design business, spearheading the schemes for Hans Scharoun's Philharmonie building in Berlin, the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, and the Berlin Tegel airport building, among others.


Josef Albers
Biarritz, August 1929; Ascona, August 1930
gelatin silver prints mounted on cardboard
11 2/3 x 16 1/4 in. (29.5 x 41 cm)

Josef Albers: Art to Open Eyes

A month or so after the German-American artist Josef Albers died in March 1976, his wife, Anni, handed me a cracked leather case bulging with keys that belonged to him. She said we must drive to New Haven, about fifteen minutes from where the Alberses lived, to see if one of the keys would unlock a storage room used by Josef.

We went together, in the dark green Mercedes that was the couple's only significant material luxury, from their modest ranch house to a building near the Yale University Art Gallery that, when Josef was working on Interaction of Color, had headquartered Yale University Press. "I think Kerr gave Juppi space in the basement," Anni explained, referring to Chester Kerr, who had been editor-in-chief of Yale University Press, and using the name reserved only for intimates of Josef, one which Anni, when feeling particularly affectionate, transformed into "Juvel"—"jewel" in German. Although Kerr and her husband had fallen out, she said, Josef had retained use of the space rent-free.

Anni explained that she had never been in the room; the steps down to the basement were too steep for her, and it was Josef's private domain. But very often they would park out front, and while she waited in the car, Josef would go in carrying a painting and come out with nothing or, conversely, go in empty-handed and return with this or that under his arm.

There were about half a dozen steel doors in the basement, all locked. I tried each of the twenty or so keys in five of the doors, without luck. Then one key opened the sixth. I groped for a light switch. As if with a flash of lightning, I was in a treasure trove. The first thing I saw was an illustrated letter from Paul Klee to Anni and Josef. Then I recognized glass constructions from the Bauhaus. The room was airless and stifling, though, and Anni was waiting outside, so I turned off the light, locked up, and went back upstairs.

In the weeks that followed, I found piles of photo-collages, individual photographs, cans of film, and contact sheets. My wife, Katharine, carefully reorganized them and began the process of preservation. I knew Josef loved photography—he had spoken to me about visits from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Arnold Newman, Lord Snowdon, and Yousuf Karsh, and about his chance encounter with Irving Penn in the offices of Vogue—but he had never mentioned his own camera work, although he exalted his and Anni's new Polaroid SX-70 as "a masterpiece of design, and so much better than bad painting."

It was surprising not only that Josef was such a prolific photographer but that he had managed to save all this work. He and Anni fled Nazi Germany in November 1933 with few possessions. The following year, Anni's father, a successful Berlin furniture manufacturer, had shipped some boxes to Black Mountain College, where Josef was teaching, but one can hardly imagine where and how Josef stored their teeming contents or got them to New Haven in 1950 when he became head of the art school at Yale. Amid the trove of photographic work were also more than a hundred earlier figurative drawings, including one of a naked couple dancing in frenzied ecstasy. Like the photographs of Bauhäusler cavorting on the beach, that drawing is intensely sensual, joyfully celebrating life's pleasures.

Josef was charming, as playful as he was certain of his beliefs, but I still felt as if I had found a Victorian grandfather's erotica. And then I realized that the sheer love of living and seeing, an intoxication with the bounty of nature, overtly manifest in his photographs, is what permeates all of Josef's work, including the more seemingly austere Homages to the Square for which he is best known.

Josef assembled these photo-collages in the years when he was also constructing furniture, sandblasting glass, and teaching the nature of form and materials at the Bauhaus. Some of us will fasten onto the personalities that come alive in these photographs, and details like Paul Klee's impeccable choice in the white cotton knit sweater he wore at a beach resort; others of us will see the lines left in the sand when the ocean recedes at low tide as evidence that the natural world was the greatest geometric abstractionist of all times. Josef's camera work, and the intuitive yet precise way in which he juxtaposed photos large and small, reflect the desire that was his lifeblood: "to open eyes."


Lee Boltin, Untitled (Josef Albers Holding West Mexican Figure in front of Homage to the Square: Auriferous), 1958. © Lee Boltin

Bauhaus Masters Josef and Anni Albers Obsessively Collected South American Art

When Josef and Anni Albers fled Germany for the United States, in 1933, the New World offered them more than refuge from the rise of Nazism. It also gave them access to one of their chief fascinations: Latin America. "They had gone to museums in Germany and seen the pre-Columbian art, what the Mayan and Incan cultures had done, and loved it," says Albers Foundation director Nicholas Fox Weber. "That's what America meant to them as much as anything else."

Not long after the Third Reich shut down the Bauhaus, the avant-garde art school where Josef and Anni had both studied and taught, Josef was fortuitously invited to lead the art department at the newly founded Black Mountain College, the North Carolina art school that would soon become a hotbed of modernist experimentation. "When they arrived," says Fox Weber, "they knew more about Central and South America than the United States."

For the Alberses, based in North Carolina, Latin America wasn't exactly next door—but it was close enough. "Josef learned to drive just so they could make the journey to Mexico," says Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye, who curated Small-Great Objects: Anni and Josef Albers in the Americas, which opens at Yale University Art Gallery on February 3rd.

Josef and Anni set off on their first trip to Mexico in 1935 in a Ford Model A. They were accompanied by close friends who would become their frequent travel companions: Ted Drier, a founder of Black Mountain College, and his wife, Bobbie. It was the first of many trips. Between 1935 and 1967, the Alberses traveled to Mexico 14 times by car. Occasionally, they traveled farther, to Peru, staying at boarding houses along the way. "They loved to stock up on supplies at Sears & Roebuck in Dallas," says Fox Weber.

They also loved to stock up on Mesoamerican objects, which were available in abundance in Mexico in the 1930s and '40s. Large-scale archaeological excavations were in full swing at pre-Columbian sites like Monte Albán and Mitla in Oaxaca, and Josef and Anni took it all in with tremendous interest, exploring the ancient architecture and documenting their findings, as well as acquiring beloved pieces from marketplaces and merchants.

Over the years, they amassed a collection of around 1,400 objects, ranging from softly molded Tlatlico figurines from 1200 B.C. to 16th-century Aztec pottery shards to antique and modern Mexican textiles. "They started by photographing and visiting museums and sites, picking up a few things along the way, and developing this eye for prehistoric art and textiles," says Kaye-Reynolds. "Their collecting ramped up as their careers ramped up."

In 1950, Yale hired Josef to head its Department of Design, and the couple moved to Connecticut. With cultural patrimony laws changing and their new proximity to New York, they began collecting more from dealers, and continued to do so for decades.

The exhibition at Yale juxtaposes more than 100 pre-Columbian items from their collection, which now resides in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, with examples of their own work, including Josef's paintings, prints, works on paper, and black-and-white photographs of objects and architecture. It also includes several versions of Homage to the Square—his best-known series of squares within squares, in which he rigorously explored relationships between colors. Anni, one of the 20th century's greatest textile artists, is well-represented with some of her finest geometric weavings and graphic prints.

The connections between the pre-Columbian objects and the Alberses' modernist art is clear. Josef's arrangements of squares and rectangles and Anni's geometric patterns seem to share DNA with the abstract forms of pre-Columbian pottery and textiles, and with the architectural designs captured again and again by Josef's camera. "They shared many sensibilities with pre-Hispanic makers," says Reynolds-Kaye, pointing out the "variability of perception of the foreground versus the background," for instance. "The colors also had a big impact on them," says Fox Weber, referring to a "piñata" palette in some of Josef's Homages.

While it's easy to understand how the Alberses, staunch abstractionists, would have felt an affinity to these ancient, non-representational aesthetics, their obsession with small clay and stone figurines is a bit harder to fathom. But as Reynolds-Kaye explains, it wasn't so out of character. They valued an economy and purity of form, after all, and the figures were powerful despite their simplicity and size, expressive without superfluous details.

Josef and Anni long advocated for the kind of "truth to materials" that pre-Columbian makers practiced, Reynolds-Kaye explains. "Ceramic acting like ceramic, threads and paint acting like threads and paint." The Alberses didn't appropriate from these forms in the way that some other European modernists borrowed from primitive art at the time. Rather, says Reynolds-Kaye, "they rejected the idea of them as primitive and saw a real kinship with these ancient artists." Case in point: Anni learned from local craftswomen how to use an ancient weaving device called a backstrap loom, and then taught the technique to students at Black Mountain College.

But they also felt a strong kinship with the contemporary culture of Latin America, says Fox Weber, who first met the Alberses in 1971, while an art history graduate student at Yale. "For the Albers, art and the visual had to be everywhere in your life, and in Mexico, art was everywhere," he says. "They felt that people there were living with visual flair, even if they were living in simple huts—the jewelry that women wore, the serapes, the blankets, the earthenware pottery. They just felt that it was the most natural thing in the world in Mexico to make the visual environment beautiful, which was the dream of the Bauhaus."


Installation view, Josef Albers: Sunny Side Up, David Zwirner Gallery, London, 2017. Photo courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery

Sunny Side Up: Josef Albers' Yellow Paintings Look on the Bright Side

"Josef had a weakness for yellows," says Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, speaking to an assembled crowd at London gallery David Zwirner. Standing amidst an uplifting selection of the German-born American artist's renowned Homage to the Square paintings in varying shades of mustard, saffron and pale lemon, Fox-Weber is in town to celebrate the opening of the gallery's new exhibition, Sunny Side Up, which gathers a collection of Albers' paintings in which the colour yellow takes centre stage.

On a grey January day in London, the warm saturated canvases come as a welcome sight. Elegantly arranged across two floors of the Mayfair gallery space, the yellow Homage to the Square works occupy the ground floor alongside a selection of the abstract painter's rarely exhibited colour studies—working-experiments complete with notations which Fox Weber only uncovered after Albers' death in 1976. Upstairs, Albers' earlier Variant/Adobe series, which he initiated in 1947 in La Luz, New Mexico, during a sabbatical from teaching at Black Mountain College, show the profound influence of Latin American art on his oeuvre.

In 1950, just three years after the initiation of the Variant/Adobe series, at the age of 62 Albers painted his first Homage to the Square. In the last 26 years of his life, he went on to paint over 3,000 of them on both 40- and larger 48 sq in canvases. They were always created using the same process: Albers would begin by dividing the canvas into ten units—a technique which he referred to as "a platter to serve colour." He would then apply the paint directly to the canvas from the tube, unmixed, starting from the centre and working his way outwards, just as his father, a house painter, carpenter, plumber and general technician, had taught him—a technique that "catches the drips of paint and keeps cuffs clean" he used to say.

"If you say the word 'yellow' it means so many different things to so many different people," says Fox Weber surveying the assembled works. "You should be aware that verbal language doesn't always have the subtlety and the breadth of the language of color, which was Josef's language. Josef wanted to reveal colour in the same way that a religious figure wants to reveal the spiritual presence he believes in. He wanted to reveal line and form and its magic in the same way."

Sunny Side Up follows on from David Zwirner's November/December 2016 Albers survey in New York, Josef Albers: Grey Scales, Grey Steps, Grey Ladders, which focused on the artist's use of black, white, and grey. To commemorate the two consecutive exhibitions, David Zwirner Books is publishing a fully illustrated catalogue called Josef Albers: Midnight and Noon—a title that nods to Albers' 1964 series of color lithographs, which brought together two opposing colour sets (blacks and greys and an array of yellows) in a single portfolio.