DECEMBER 14 Homage to Mexico: Josef Albers and His Reality Based Abstraction Roberta Smith, New York Times

OCTOBER 20  All about Weave: A New Show Threads together Anni Albers's Artistic Ambidexterity Elly Parsons, Wallpaper*

OCTOBER 11 What You Need to Know about Bauhaus Master Anni Albers Alexxa Gotthardt, Artsy

SEPTEMBER 11 In a Remote Senegalese Village, International Artists Are Learning from Local Creatives Alexxa Gotthardt, Artsy

SEPTEMBER 6 How Anni And Josef Albers Became 21st Century Art Stars Carol Kino, Wall Street Journal Magazine

JULY 6 "I have been thinking about Josef and Anni Albers for four decades" Jonathan Bastable, Christie's

MAY 1 Homage to Josef Albers: Writers Pay Tribute to a Pioneer of Abstraction Micheal Valinsky, Hyperallergic

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*

Josef Albers
Study for Homage to the Square: Consent, 1971
oil on masonite
16 x 16 in. (40.6 x 40.6 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Homage to Mexico: Josef Albers and His Reality Based Abstraction

Art rarely thrives in a vacuum. It is by definition polyglot and in flux, buffeted by the movement of art objects, goods and people across borders and among cultures, and also by individual passion. This much, especially the passion part, is demonstrated by Josef Albers in Mexico, a quietly stunning exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum that contrasts Albers's little-known photographs of the great Mesoamerican monuments of Mexico with his glowing abstract paintings.

The show grounds this German-born artist's paintings in his Mexican travels between 1935 and 1967, clarifying his creative debt to the pre-Hispanic world. It reveals an artist from one culture being blown away by the achievements of another culture, and making work that might otherwise not have been possible without a change of scene.

The geometric grandeur and decorative reliefs of the pyramids, sanctuaries and building complexes of the Maya, Aztec, Zapotec and other civilizations enabled Albers (1888–1976) to reach maturity. Namely they thawed the rigorous color theory he had learned and taught at the Weimar Bauhaus, and also at Black Mountain College in Asheville, N.C., and Yale University, which he ultimately developed into a landmark 1963 book, Interaction of Color. The Mesoamerican influence culminated in Albers's signature Homage to the Square paintings, those severely concentric yet pulsating arrangements of color, light and space he made from 1950 until his death, presaging Minimalism by more than a decade.

Albers made more than a dozen trips south of the border with his wife, the artist-weaver Anni Albers (1899–1994), also a former Bauhaus student and teacher. They visited and revisited sites like Mitla, Monte Albán, Tenayuca and Uxmal, some newly discovered, most under excavation. Camera ever at the ready, Josef took thousands of photographs.

Back home, he had some negatives enlarged into single images, and fashioned many tiny contact prints into photocollages that bespeak a slightly crazed obsession. But Albers never exhibited his photoworks and usually hedged questions about the influences behind the Homage to the Square series. Many of the photoworks here are being shown for the first time, which is gratifying, if belated.

In today's parlance, Albers might be accused of "cultural appropriation," a negative buzzword that presumes that culture can be owned and controlled, which it can't. Passion and openness make opportunists of us all. But sources should be acknowledged. This exhibition, which has been organized by Lauren Hinkson, an associate curator at the Guggenheim, gives Albers's development a transparency that he could have encouraged, but did not.

The Alberses were already deeply interested in pre-Hispanic art and architecture when they arrived in the United States from Berlin in 1933, shortly after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus. (Their exit visa was an invitation to teach at the avant-gardist Black Mountain, followed in 1950 by Josef's appointment to Yale.) They became keen collectors of things Mesoamerican, eventually giving some 1,400 small stone and clay figurines, ceramic vessels and Andean textile fragments to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. (Their collecting was examined in Small-Great Objects: Anni and Josef Albers in the Americas at the Yale University Art Gallery earlier this year.)

The values apparent in Mesoamerican objects and structures dovetailed with the Alberses' most cherished Bauhaus principles, especially economy of means, truth to materials and the pursuit of variation within specific boundaries. Limits were inherent in Anni's weaving and were imposed by Josef's nesting squares. Furthermore, he began working exclusively with colors straight from the tube—smoothed out with a palette knife to the rough side of Masonite, sometimes exploiting the effects of the white gesso ground and canvas-like texture. And yet these strictures seem to have freed him to revel in the full spectrum: hot pinks, crimsons and violets, browns, greens and black, and their impact on one another.

Installed to trace the couple's travels to different pre-Hispanic sites, Josef Albers in Mexico has an energetic syncopation generated by the paintings' singing colors, which alternate with the silvery sepia of the photographs. The paintings range from rarely-seen fledgling works from 1935–40 to a final sweep of seven small Homage to the Square paintings from the 1960s and '70s in shades of red, orange and yellow. Each has its own inner light, scale and spatial rhythm; together they attest to the instability of color and perception.

In his photographs Albers is always on the move. He constantly pulls back to show the lay of the land and the architecture on it. "I once again have phenomenal respect for the spaces between the pyramids," he wrote to a friend upon returning to Monte Albán in 1936.

We see close-ups of the pyramids' steep stairs and intersecting planes—especially in tightly framed shots at Tenayuca—that seem to have initially inspired a pursuit of diagonal lines and planes. Two Tenayuca oil studies from around 1938 might be 3-D renderings of a stark modernist house. A drawing of the same motif flattens it into a single angled line spiraling in on itself. The common source is seen in a nearby photograph: a spectacular coiled serpent sculpture at Tenayuca.

Albers's camera captured extremes of light and shadow and the thickly framed doorways in both pre-Hispanic structures and vernacular adobe dwellings. All of this figures prominently in eight forthrightly titled Variant/Adobe paintings from the late 1940s—the core of the show. Here, horizontal building-like compositions feature pairs of apertures that imply mysterious interiors. The layering of color creates a prismatic, almost hallucinatory wavering of form. Albers is about to segue to the Homage of the Square paintings in these works, but their visionary effect also links him to early American modernists like Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Burchfield and Arthur Dove.

Filtered through his photographs, Mesoamerican architecture showed Albers the accordion-like nature of pictorial space: it could be rendered as volumetric, flat and something in between at the same time. You see it in an ink drawing at the start of the show, Study for Sanctuary (1941–42), which presents three black rectangles that are pushed in and then out by the concentric lines radiating around them, which also suggest stairs and elaborate doorframes. Frank Stella's black-stripe paintings or the early reliefs of Donald Judd come to mind.

Such spatial mutability is more refined in the Homage to the Square paintings, which often read simultaneously as receding, like a sunken walled court; protruding, like a flat-topped pyramid; and holding steady in a single slightly vibrating plane—a temple gate to another world.

These paintings are among the pinnacles of pure abstraction—if you believe in pure abstraction. But this beautiful exhibition may destabilize that faith. All art is reality-based, derived in part from looking long and hard at whatever chooses you. In Albers case, "Homage to Mexico" might have been a more accurate title.


Installation view, Anni Albers: Touching Vision, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2017. Photo: Giovanni Hänninen

All about Weave: A New Show Threads together Anni Albers's Artistic Ambidexterity

Anni Albers's career spanned two continents, eight decades and half a dozen honorary doctorates. It negotiated personal commissions and worldwide mass-production; bridging the canvas, the loom and the printing press. To stack such a mountain of boundary-crossing achievements, takes a figure of "remarkable tenacity and adaptability," says Manuel Cirauqui, the curator of the Albers retrospective recently opened at the Guggenheim Bilbao.

"When she arrived at the Bauhaus in 1922, Albers wanted to be a painter, but she was given a spot in the weaving workshop," Cirauqui explains. "She took it, and ran with it. Then, when forced to move to the US in 1933, she hit the big-time in America's mass-produced design industry. At 60 years of age, when she had to stop weaving, she adapted again as a great theorist and philosopher."

Touching Vision highlights Albers's lifelong artistic ambidexterity, through a catalogue of examples taken from each of her "phases." Linearly presented, and guided by Cirauqui's steady hand, we see the queen of weaving's singular modernist vision unfold across discipline, decade and timezone. The first work we confront, her Bauhaus thesis subject, is laid on top of a glass vitrine, so its textural complexity can "rise to the fore," says Cirauqui, his hand hovering over the threads. Woven in, lustrous cellophane warps across haggard horsehair.

We see a commitment to material experimentation recur in her art jewelry. Defying its luxe appearance, and the source of several double-takes, Necklace (circa 1940) is made from a drain-strainer that gathers a cluster of stretched-out paper clips. Through such pieces Albers was attempting to bring beautifully made, timeless accessories to the masses, through the use of "common materials" that were "uncommon to jewelry."

The Bauhaus-inspired ideology of "art for everyone" permeated Albers's career, and later informed her mass-produced pattern work, which took off in 1951 when Florence Knoll invited her to collaborate with the Knoll textiles department, leading to a 30-year friendship, through which Albers would bring her stylistic innovation to the textile heavyweight. "The collaboration came at a time when everyone had badly reproduced Van Goghs in their living rooms," says Cirauqui. "Albers thought they should instead have access to high quality reproduced art. She thought textiles was the way to do it."

The idea reached a zenith in 1976, with Albers's best known pattern, Eclat, which started life as affordable print-upholstery, before reaching the much-copied global status it has today. For Touching Vision, Cirauqui lined the back wall of the Guggenheim with great swathes of original Knoll fabrics, allowing them to ripple as visitors pass close by; their hypnotically oscillating patterns waving. Positioned directly opposite, like a reflection, Cirauqui placed Albers's painstaking pencil sketches of the pattern, so as to show the thinking behind the work. We see how the lines of the pattern interweave, warp and weft, like threads.

At 60, Albers no longer wished to handle the considerable physical demands of the loom, and despite living for a further 30 years, she made a conscious decision to stop weaving, "showing an incredible self-awareness and sensitivity," says Cirauqui. The final work Epitaph (1968), in which you can read "a lot of her past, present and future," is a magnum opus where we follow the story of a tangled golden thread, weaving a complex path through a taut, opaque back plate. "She created it knowing she would never be able to make such a vast, all-encompassing loom-based work again." It's a physical representation of her weaving philosophy, embracing both technicality and expression.

Contextualized by pages from her sketchbook, and early examples of the Pre-Columbian textiles that inspired her, this is a show that reaches through the loom, and attempts to unspool the goings-on of her mind.


Anni Albers in her weaving studio at Black Mountain College, 1937. Photo: Helen M. Post

What You Need to Know about Bauhaus Master Anni Albers

The great textile artist and abstractionist Anni Albers found her medium—weaving—by accident.

It was 1922, and Albers had just been accepted into the Bauhaus, the pioneering school in Weimar, Germany, whose lofty goal was to spread aesthetically rigorous, functional art and design across the globe and make it accessible to all, regardless of wealth or class. The Bauhaus offered courses in many different specialities, including woodworking, metal, wall painting, and glass. At the time, however, most women ended up in the weaving workshop.

While the school celebrated its commitment to gender equality in promotional pamphlets, the reality wasn't as even-handed. In 1920, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius informed one female applicant that "it is not advisable, in our experience, that women work in the heavy craft areas such as carpentry and so forth." He continued: "For this reason, a women's section has been formed at the Bauhaus which works particularly with textiles; bookbinding and pottery also accept women."

Though it was by no means Albers's first choice—she'd have preferred glass—the ambitious young artist ended up at the loom. "Fate put into my hands limp threads!" she later recalled. "Threads to build a future?" Despite her reticence, though, she took to the medium. And through an experimental approach to material, and an inventive handling of undulating line and geometric pattern, she proceeded to advance not only textile art, but also the course of abstract art—a movement that her male contemporaries Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and her husband Josef Albers are sooner recognized for.

Who Was Anni Albers?

Albers was born Annelise Elsa Frieda Fleischmann in the upmarket Berlin neighborhood of Charlottenburg on June 12, 1899. She was the daughter of a wealthy family; her mother's forebears had built the Ullstein publishing empire and her father owned a thriving furniture manufacturing business. But as she reached her late teens, she began to stray from the path that was expected of her, one that would entail settling down with a man of means. "[She] swam against the stream, she was rebellious," her sister-in-law later recalled to scholar Pandora Tabatabai Asbaghi, in her and Nicholas Fox Weber's 1999 monograph Anni Albers. Albers was also passionately creative, and after some cajoling, she convinced her rather old-fashioned father to allow her to attend art school.

She tried Hamburg's Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) first for two months, but the institution's dry instruction didn't satiate her experimental appetite. Serendipitously, she happened upon a pamphlet for the fledgling Bauhaus School soon after. Intent on applying, she made her way to Weimar just before turning 23. There, she set up in a small, rented room—where she was only permitted one bath a week, down the hall—and pulled together her application.

After being denied once, she reapplied and entered the school as a student in the weaving workshop in 1923. It was there that she developed the basis of her influential practice, learning the tenets of weaving alongside Gunta Stölzl, and the principles of abstraction through Klee. She supplemented these courses with her own research into the history of textiles. Trips to ethnological museums like Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin and Munich, and tomes like Walter Lehmann's Kunstgeschichte des Alten Peru (1923) and Marguerite and Raoul d'Harcourt's Les Tissus Indiens du Vieux Pérou (1924), offered Albers a first glimpse into the ancient textile art of Peru, which would go on to become one of her greatest influences.

It was also at the Bauhaus that she met and fell in love with Josef, a student in the glass workshop who was 11 years her senior. He would go on to become one of the most important geometric abstractionists of the mid-20th century. Later, she described the young Josef to Nicholas Fox Weber, the director of the The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, as "a lean, half-starved Westphalian" with "irresistible blond bangs." They married three years later, and would go on to make art, teach, write, and travel alongside each other for the next 50-some years.

What Inspired Her?

Albers considered Klee, in particular, a guiding light during her early years as an artist. He began a course in the weaving workshop in 1927, where she was exposed to both his theories on abstraction and his paintings, which were rich in symbols and colors. She was especially excited by Klee's "repeated insistence that the ultimate form of the work was not as important as the process leading to it," and his own use of formal experimentation and graffiti-like markings.

Klee believed that these elements could tap into the subconscious—a concept that she absorbed and embedded elegantly into her abstract tapestries, making it her own. "I heard [Klee] speak and he said take a line for a walk, and I thought, 'I will take thread everywhere I can,'" she once said.

Indeed, she did. Her early works from the mid-1920s were already marked by her innovative approach to the process of weaving—which, as the Bauhaus encouraged, intertwined form and function, ease of production and formal experimentation. She combined loom-weaving with hand-weaving; reproducible geometric patterns and spontaneous, on-the-loom decisions; and organic and synthetic materials.

Her designs "provided an alternative to the narrative and figural European tapestry tradition—in which a textile was produced by weavers based on cartoons often created by others—and allowed the modern weaver to compose directly on the loom," wrote Virginia Gardner Troy in her essay "Thread as Text: The Woven Work of Anni Albers." The resulting works brim with squares, rectangles, and lines arranged in delightfully irregular patterns and rendered in kaleidoscopic colors and gradients, so that they seem to jump from their fiber substrate.

She also worked on functional commissions such as room dividers and curtains. One even earned Albers her Bauhaus diploma: In 1929 Bauhaus architect Hannes Meyer tapped Albers to design a wall covering for the new auditorium he was constructing. Her design was unprecedented—it joined the newfangled material cellophane, on one side, with cotton on the other, to create a sound-absorbing and light-reflecting material.

After Albers had a brief stint as head of the weaving workshop from 1931–32, the Bauhaus was shuttered by Germany's National Socialist Party. And by 1933, she and Albers were on their way to the United States (Albers was of Jewish descent and, as she said, "had the wrong kind of background in Hitler's ideas"), where they began teaching at the progressive art school Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina.

There, Albers continued to cultivate her weaving practice, informed in large part by frequent trips to Peru and Mexico and the visual languages (symbols, pictographs) and Andean weaving techniques she encountered there. She'd go on to refer to Peruvian weavers as her "greatest teachers," and described their work as "infinite phantasy within the world of threads, conveying strength or playfulness, mystery or the reality of their surroundings, endlessly varied in presentation and construction, even though bound to a code of basic concepts."

Albers famously dubbed her tapestries that resulted from these experiences as "pictorial weaving": intricate woven abstractions that evidenced her belief in thread as a "carrier of meaning," as Gardner Troy points out in her essay. In some, like Black-White-Gold I (1950), lines of thread resembling twisting labyrinths or the silhouettes of age-old architectural structures rise from a shimmering substrate of interlaced cotton, jute, and metallic ribbon. Others, with titles like In the Landscape and Pasture (both 1958), reference the mountain ranges and vistas of Central and South America.

While Albers expanded the capabilities of her medium, she acknowledged that the structure and limitations inherent in the weaving process could stifle creativity—so she always encouraged a healthy amount of what she thought of as "play," both in her own work and her teachings and prolific writings. In a 1941 article "Handweaving Today: Textile work at Black Mountain College," she advocated for an elementary approach with "a playful beginning, unresponsive to any demand of usefulness, an enjoyment of colors, forms, surface contrasts and harmonies—a tactile sensuousness."

This playfulness led her outside of her own weaving studio, too. Albers made jewelry collaboratively with a Black Mountain College student, Alex Reed, from the parts of everyday objects and appliances, like metal washers, bottle caps, and curtain rings. Later, while residing in Connecticut, she also collaborated with the manufacturing and textile companies Knoll and Sunar on fabrics that were produced in bulk for many years. And in 1963, she turned her full attention to printmaking, a medium where she discovered that, through images of threads, she "could project a freedom I never suspected."

Why Does Her Work Matter?

"Why Anni Albers?" wrote Fox Weber in his introduction to a major monograph devoted to Albers's work, Anni Albers, published in 1999, several years after her death in 1994. "To begin with, she transformed textiles into an art form."

Indeed, Albers can be said to have introduced weaving—and textiles in general—into the closed-door realm of early 20th-century, Western fine art (limited primarily to painting and sculpture made by men). In 1949, an exhibition of Albers's work at the Museum of Modern Art ("Anni Albers Textiles") marked the first time any textile artist was featured in a solo show at the institution. It traveled to 26 museums across the U.S. and Canada.

"Anni Albers, more than any other weaver, has succeeded in exciting mass realization of the complex structure of fabrics," artist, designer, and theorist R. Buckminster Fuller said. "She has brought the artist's intuitive sculpturing facilities and the agelong weaver's arts into historical successful marriage." She also expanded abstraction beyond painting and sculpture to incorporate not only techniques traditionally associated with "women's work," but also those gleaned from ancient cultures, whose refined artistic contributions had, at the time, barely been recognized by Western art history.

These inspirations were not only showcased in her work, but also recorded for posterity in her teachings and extensive writings. Her texts On Designing (1959) and On Weaving (1965), for instance, are to this day regarded at the level of holy writ in many art, design, and textile courses.

Through her imaginative, deft work and eloquent words, Albers has left a legacy characterized by an energetic balance of history and innovation, of abstraction and content, of material and form. "How do we choose our specific material, our means of communication?" she once wrote. "'Accidentally.' Something speaks to us, a sound, touch, hardness or softness, it catches us and asks us to be formed. We are finding our language, and as we go along we learn to obey [its] rules and [its] limits."


Thread building by Toshiko Mori Architect, 2015. Photo: Iwan Baan

In a Remote Senegalese Village, International Artists Are Learning from Local Creatives

A few hours after New York-based music producer Milo McBride arrived in the small, rural village of Sinthian, Senegal, last week, his jaw hurt from smiling.

He had just made the long journey from New York City to the Senegalese countryside—an eight-hour flight to Dakar, followed by a seven-hour drive to Sinthian. There, on a plot of land covered in bright-white buildings topped with thatched roofs, he found his destination: Thread, an artist residency and cultural center where he'd be living and working for the next month.

McBride spent his first few hours watching a local soccer tournament, followed by several days drawing with local children, collecting field recordings for an album he's composing, and preparing for the music production courses he'll teach in the neighboring city of Tambacounda.

Though he was far from home, he immediately felt at ease. "I was greeted with a warmness I have never experienced," he tells me, three days into the residency. "It was a shockingly easy adjustment. Speaking French helps, but it's irrelevant to how compassionate and welcoming Senegalese people are."

McBride is one of 35 artists from around the globe and working in a vast array of mediums—from music and performance to painting and sculpture to writing and design—who have come to Thread since the residency began in 2015. He was drawn to the program, like most of its participating artists, for its collaborative relationship with the surrounding community.

"I was eager to do the residency because it is based around a symbiotic exchange between the artists and the local community, with hopes of creating bridges between this region and the various artists who come to collaborate," he says.

The concept for Thread, which operates as both an artist residency and socio-cultural center, was hatched in 2013 by the director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Nicholas Fox Weber, and local Sinthian community leader and doctor, Dr. Magueye Ba. Inspiration for the project came from legendary Bauhaus and Black Mountain College artists Josef and Anni Albers, who believed that art is everywhere—not just in Western, urban capitals, as the art-historical canon of the mid-20th century (when the Albers lived and worked) suggested.

During their lives, the Albers traveled over 14 times to Mexico and Latin America. "When they got there, they were immediately taken by the art and culture," Nick Murphy, Thread's director since 2015, tells me. "They didn't claim it to be primitive. Instead, they really appreciated it for its sophistication; they learned from it."

Building on this ethos, Fox Weber and Ba developed an ambitious mission for Thread: "To allow artists access to the raw materials of inspiration found in this rarely-visited area of the world; and to use art as a means of developing linkages between rural Senegal and other parts of the globe." Now, just three years in, they've already made good on their goals.

Funded by the sale of a single Josef Albers painting from the Foundation's collection, construction for Thread began in 2013. The firm Toshiko Mori Architect, with the help of a local team of contractors, designed the campus and its buildings as living quarters, art studios, and communal spaces where artists and the community can socialize and participate in agricultural and artistic workshops. The grounds include space for gardens, and the thatched, pitched roofs double as devices for collecting rainwater, which supplies the local community with 40 percent of its domestic water needs today.

After two years of planning and building, a lively party launched Thread in March 2015. Tambacounda-based rapper and producer Negger Dou Tamba, among Thread's first few residents, remembers performing at the inauguration ceremony, surrounded by an large, enthusiastic crowd, "from children to the elderly," he tells me. The set kicked off a month-long stay for Tamba, during which time he worked on an upcoming album, completed a music video with British production company ZOYA Films, and helped a group of local women set up a soap-making business by translating instructional texts from French to Pulaar, the local language.

One of his proudest accomplishments during the residency, though, was a pulsing, euphoric track he wrote and rapped in Pulaar to "pay homage to Thread and the village of Sinthian," he says. "Now the song has become a hymn to Sinthian, and every time you cross the village, you hear it on people's radios."

While participating artists aren't required to interact with the community or the local landscape during their stay, most do. Belgian, Antwerp-based sculptor Elise Eeraerts came to Thread in 2016 with a specific goal: to collaborate with local ceramicists and learn their techniques. "In Sinthian, these techniques are essential to their daily lives and culture," she tells me. "All the material resources we used came directly from nature, and it was very interesting for me to be able to directly trace everything back to the surroundings where the project happened."

Together with local artisans, Eeraerts developed a series of vessels using methods gleaned from her new teachers—like making clay from hard gravel and employing centuries-old firing techniques—and resources provided by the surrounding landscape. The process was humbling and transformative, Eeraerts explains: "I saw it is possible to make things from only what is provided directly by nature, through very specific processes."

American video artist and sculptor Ariel Jackson was also inspired to engage with local traditions while at Thread. During her residency in early 2017, Jackson set out to research the history of rice cultivation in West Africa—and how West African agricultural traditions, brought to the U.S. through the slave trade, informed the prosperous rice economy in the Carolinas. Across Sinthian and Tambacounda, Jackson interviewed local gardeners and metal workers about the region's agricultural traditions and tools. Her findings informed her newest body of work, which explores these practices and their relationship to the African diaspora. She also taught a stop-motion animation course to a group of Sinthian school children.

Jackson found that the experiences she gained and the relationships she formed with the community at Thread not only informed her practice, but also her sense of self. "I experienced an intense realization of my own privilege of a light-skinned American artist," she explains. "In America, I am black first and American second, whereas in Senegal I am American first and questionably black. This realization came about because I let myself be challenged by locals and people I still consider to this day as close friends."

As Thread welcomes McBride this month, along with performance artist Andrew Ondrejcak and writer and journalist Adrian LeBlanc, there is a sense that these connections between visiting artists and the community of Sinthian, based in mutual respect and exchange, will only continue to strengthen.

For his part, McBride will teach music production courses at local community centers. "Over coffee this afternoon, I talked with the main producers and rappers in town, and they have asked me to make beats for them and give their sound engineers techniques in mixing their music," he tells me. "And tomorrow morning, I'll teach my first production class." In return, he'll spend a week with local musicians, learning to play the djembe and the kora, two instruments native to Senegal.

This kind of creative exchange embodies Thread's essence. "It is at its heart a project that seeks to expand the heinously narrow appreciation that much of the world has of West Africa and Senegal," Murphy explains, "and to do so by expanding opportunities for artists to engage with what is one of the world's most dynamic and diverse art and cultural practices."


Anni and Josef Albers at Black Mountain College, 1938. Photograph by Theodore Dreier

How Anni And Josef Albers Became 21st Century Art Stars

A crop of major shows celebrating the modernist pioneers is coming to Europe and New York

How do you make an artist into a key figure of art history? Take the case of Josef and Anni Albers, today considered leading lights of 20th-century modernism. The couple emerged from Germany's innovative Bauhaus school, where he was a teacher and she a student. After the Nazis forced the school's closure in 1933, the Alberses fled to the United States and joined the founding faculty of Black Mountain College, in North Carolina. Josef oversaw the art department, and Anni taught weaving. Both left their mark on a student body that included future masters such as Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

By midcentury, when modernist abstraction still ruled, both artists were in their heyday: In 1949, Anni, having already influenced a generation of designers, became the first textile artist to have a solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art; a year later, Josef became the first director of Yale University's graduate design department, where he shaped the thinking of still more American artists, including Richard Serra and Eva Hesse. But from the 1970s on, as conceptualism, expressionist painting and other postmodernist movements came to the fore, the Alberses' brand of geometric abstraction and formal experimentation fell out of fashion.

Yet these days the couple suddenly seems to be everywhere: The coming year brings a crop of major Albers shows in Europe and New York, including Anni Albers: Touching Vision, opening October 6 at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao—the artist's first retrospective since 1999—and Josef Albers in Mexico, opening November 3 at New York's Guggenheim. Josef's Homage to the Square works, paintings and prints of nested squares that served as visualizations of his color theories, are no longer seen as dry academic studies but coveted as glorious pieces in themselves. And as museums intensify their focus on underrecognized women artists, as well as on neglected media like textiles and prints, Anni's boldly unconventional weavings, which incorporated material like cellophane even in the 1920s, have made her the darling of curators, theorists and artists alike.

Perhaps it's just the zeitgeist, but many in the art world also credit this resurgence to the diligent work of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut, about 20 minutes away from the cemetery where the couple are buried under matching rectangular headstones. "The foundation is a think tank not only for the Alberses' work but also for modernism, both European and American," says David Leiber, a partner at New York's David Zwirner gallery, which began representing the foundation last year. According to Leiber, prices for certain Homage paintings have doubled in the past five years and tripled in the past 10; the gallery has sold them at prices ranging from $300,000 to over $2 million. (Zwirner is doing its part too, with a show opening September 20 called Josef and Anni and Ruth and Ray, pairing the Alberses with Ruth Asawa and Ray Johnson, two of their students at Black Mountain.)

Established by Josef five years before his 1976 death, the foundation has been helmed since 1979 by the art historian Nicholas Fox Weber, who met and became close to the Alberses in the early 1970s as a graduate student at Yale. From a modest complex of buildings in a woodsy grove, a team of curators, researchers, visiting artists, archivists and restorers works to maintain the couple's legacy. (There is also an informal furniture gallery, called Trunk, open to scholars and students by appointment.) The chief curator, Brenda Danilowitz, began working there before Anni's death in 1994 and, like Fox Weber, knew her personally. Among other projects, the foundation staff track down the Alberses' work, aggressively weeding out fakes and buying back select pieces when possible, and pursue their own scholarship, opening up new avenues of exploration.

"I have never had a partner in any project as helpful as the foundation," says Maria Müller-Schareck, chief curator of modern and contemporary art at Düsseldorf's Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen museum, which together with London's Tate Modern is presenting Anni Albers, a major retrospective that opens next June in Düsseldorf and travels to London that October. "Altogether they seem to know everything about these artists. And Nick Weber, he tells his wonderful stories from dusk to dawn." Indeed, Fox Weber is a raconteur full of colorful anecdotes: the time he first met the Alberses at their house and Anni served him extra-crispy KFC on Rosenthal china because, she said, it was a ringer for classic Viennese fried chicken, or when Jacqueline Onassis told Anni that looking at Josef's work was like being in Matisse's Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, France. More than one curator mentions the importance of his deep personal connection to the couple.

The fruits of the foundation's labors can be seen clearly in the two Guggenheim shows. Albers in Mexico radically repositions Josef with many works predating his Homage series, some of which will also appear. The exhibition includes his photographs and photo collages of Zapotec, Aztec and Mixtec pyramids and ruins; selections from his so-called Variant/Adobe paintings—hotly colored squares nested inside horizontal rectangles—and his Tenayuca series, which are geometric compositions that seem to balance flatness with three-dimensional space.

Among them is Tenayuca I, lost since it was purchased in 1947 and known only from a small black-and-white photograph. When the foundation began working with Zwirner, a relative of the original owner suddenly contacted the gallery about the work. "I got one look at it and said, 'We will buy it,'" Fox Weber says. "It's an extraordinary painting, in mint condition. And it's beautiful."

For Lauren Hinkson, the Guggenheim curator organizing the New York show, the painting was "a revelation," she says. "I've seen all the Tenayucas, and when I saw it hanging at the foundation, I almost got down on my knees to pray."

Hinkson hit upon the show's concept after discovering Josef's Mexican photographs in the Guggenheim's collection nine years ago. They struck her as an anticipation of the 1960s photographs of land artists like Robert Smithson and conceptual artists like Donald Judd. The foundation staff helped her expand on that idea, linking Josef's abstraction to the couple's fascination with Latin American archaeology. "When you think of Albers, you think of those squares," Hinkson says. "But the foundation helped me uncover a story that hasn't been told in this level of depth."

Meanwhile, in Touching Vision, curator Manuel Cirauqui intends to position Anni more broadly, as "an important artist," one whose work addresses, he says, "key issues for modernist painting from the perspective and materiality of so-called minor art forms." The show comprises wall hangings, pictorial weavings (as she began calling them in the U.S.) and prints, as well as her jewelry, inspired by pre-Columbian adornments but made with dime-store finds like washers, safety pins and ribbon.

The Bilbao exhibition presents Anni as a thinker and educator, too, using previously unseen material from the foundation's archives, including the original notes from her 1965 book, On Weaving, which is being reissued in an expanded edition this fall. Also on view will be one of her notebooks, filled with drawings of knots, curving lines and intricate patterns built with triangles. Discovered in the archives after Anni's death, the full journal will be published by Zwirner Books in October.

A video accompanying the show will feature a textile artist from the foundation's artist residency program weaving on the loom Anni brought to the U.S. from the Bauhaus. Although she sold it in the early 1960s, the foundation kept tabs on it, reacquired it as a gift in 2015 and reassembled it with the help of three weavers, including the foundation's associate curator, Karis Medina.

Fox Weber feels certain that with increased recognition, more Albers discoveries may emerge. "I know that there is a tapestry by Anni that disappeared in Japan in the late 1920s. The assumption is that it was destroyed, but I don't know for sure." He's on the hunt for Easter eggs, and not just metaphorical ones. "Anni told me that she and Josef painted them every year. What wouldn't I do to find Anni and Josef's Easter eggs?"


Nicholas Fox Weber at the Albers Foundation, with works by Josef Albers, from left: Homage to the Square: Tap Root, 1965; Homage to the Square: Night Sound, 1968; Study to Homage to the Square, 1964; Equal and Unequal, 1939. Photo: Jesse Chehak

"I have been thinking about Josef and Anni Albers for four decades"

Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers each had their own distinctive body of work, but they shared an obsession with geometric forms, which they explored to hypnotic effect. Jonathan Bastable visits their foundation in Connecticut and talks to its head, Nicholas Fox Weber

At the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, deep in rural Connecticut, works by both artists hang in every office and workspace. There are numerous iterations of Josef's Homage to the Square in carefully calibrated shades of red and yellow, and the library holds several well-used copies of Anni's book On Weaving.

A few items from the couple's vast collection of pre-Columbian figurines are on display in a wall cabinet. They stand opposite framed Cartier-Bresson photographs in which Josef is speaking animatedly and making shapes with his fingers. All of them are things made by the Alberses or loved by the Alberses, and taken together they create a pervasive sense of the artists' presence.

Some larger pieces are on display in the compact gallery that is the heart of the place; one key work—Josef's Equal and Unequal (1939)—has a wall to itself. This painting is one of his spatial experiments. It consists of two floating forms rendered in textured black paint that looks like weathered granite. The floating twin figures—no, not twin, because they are quite different—are made up of triangles, lozenges, wedges and hexagons that seem on the point of resolving into three-dimensional cuboids. Fleetingly, you think that you see a concrete tower with an open flap like a dark window, or that you are gazing at the interior of a distorted, disintegrating stone sarcophagus—but then the illusion falters and the two-dimensional flatness of the image reasserts itself.

It is a hypnotic work of art, and it is no surprise to learn that, after Josef died, Anni kept this painting in her bedroom where she could contemplate it. "She told me she could never work it out—how he got the texture, and if the two forms are at the same height, and what they are doing to each other," says Nick Fox Weber. He has been head of the foundation for the entire 40 years of its existence, and was a friend of the couple: "I came to see this painting as Anni and Josef—two incredibly powerful personalities, magnetically attracted, but also at odds and independent of each other."

Josef Albers met Annelise Fleischmann in 1922 at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He had previously been a schoolteacher in his home town of Bottrop, Westphalia. Anni hailed from an affluent Jewish family in Berlin. She was encouraged to draw, but her shift towards modernism was a definite act of rebellion. At the Bauhaus she took up weaving, since that was one of the few directions open to women. Josef and Anni married in 1925.

When the Bauhaus was closed by the Nazi regime in 1933, they emigrated to the USA: Josef had been offered a teaching post at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In 1950, he was appointed chairman of the Department of Design at Yale's School of Art.

Weber first met the artists when he was a student at Yale. "I thought Josef Albers had done one painting called Homage to the Square, and I didn't know who Anni was," he says. "One day the mother of a friend, a collector of their work, took me to see them. I was picturing an arrival at a Gropius meister-house, but their home was so ordinary and unattractive I couldn't quite believe it."

When he quotes Josef or Anni, he slips into a comical but convincing Mitteleuropäisch accent. Josef was at the door, and without being introduced, he said to me, "Vot do you do, boy?" "I'm studying art history at Yale, sir." "Do you like it, boy?" I couldn't dissemble. I said, "No, I don't. I'm taking courses that are making me lose my passion for art."

Anni had not said a word, but I could tell I had an ally. I had a wonderful sense that, as she watched me deal with her husband, she was feeling warm in her austere way. Josef said, "Vot does your father do?" "He's a printer." "Ach, gut. Then you are not just an art historian; you know something about something."

"That was the beginning," Weber continues. "On that first visit, we hadn't been expected for lunch, so we went out and got Kentucky Fried Chicken. Anni put the chicken and everything that came with it on a three-tier white rolling cart. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I swear in that moment I understood the Bauhaus in some way that I never had before. There was the food itself, the same wherever you buy it, but mainly it was the way she arranged it: on the white plates it became absolutely beautiful. Everything in their world was magic in some way—the way they dressed, the way they spoke—it was simple and brilliant all at once."

Josef painted about 2,000 homages to the square. They're seen as the core of his oeuvre, and command high prices at auction. But he only began doing them when he was 62 years old. "I spend a lot of time dealing with fake Homages and getting rid of them," says Weber. "The fakes are often done with a brush, whereas Josef always used a knife, and applied the paint straight from the tube. He pencilled the straight line, then worked the paint very carefully. He never used tape."

Despite their name, the Homages seem to be less about squares within squares than about the infinite possibilities of the chromatic spectrum. Every last one is an exercise in visual juxtaposition, an exploration of the effect that colours have on the eye and on each other. The size and proportion and the number of the squares vary, but they are always offset towards the bottom of the frame, and this—as with Equal and Unequal—tricks the eye into a figurative response: they look like luminous corridors receding to a vanishing point, Turrell-esque installations on a flat masonite board.

Weber agrees that the Homages and the black- and-white "structural constellations" are not quite as abstract as they might appear. "The illusional aspect of his abstractions makes them figurative in the sense that we read them as figures. To me, the Homages are altar-like, they are almost Madonnas. And you can see that Josef is something of a landscape painter; he comes very much out of Cézanne. I have been thinking about Josef and Anni for four decades, and I have only recently come to realise that Anni was the true abstract artist. Anni believed that it was only through abstraction—through the creation of something that had no resemblance to nature, no reproduction of familiar subject matter, and no personal emotions—that art gives you the balance, the diversion, the joy. Pure abstraction is balm to the soul."

What is more, Anni worked with a very limited palette of shapes and colours. There is a fabulous parsimony to, say, her Study for Camino Real (1967), which consists of hundreds of red and blue triangles on white paper—some pendent, some pyramidal, and never anywhere a hint of a repeating pattern. "She loved irregularity, and she loved taking a minimal vocabulary as far as possible," says Weber. In the process she made something that is profound and complex; that kind of minimal discipline surely derives from the Bauhaus.

Josef and Anni dipped into a shared Euclidian box of tricks. Josef once told Weber that his earliest memory was of being taken to the shops by his mother. At four years old, he was fascinated by the black-and-white chequerboard of the tiled floor in the local post office. It would be too facile to claim that this one recollection is the root of all his squares; but it might be true to say that the man's obsessive investigation of squareness helps to explain why that particular memory had primal status for him.

Both Josef and Anni found it useful to draw on graph paper. That is, the same rigid net underlies Josef's stained-glass pieces (grilles of lead containing tiny coloured panes) and Anni's wall hangings and carpets. What is a textile on the loom, after all, but a grid wrought in taut threads?

There are other correspondences between their separate oeuvres—coincidences or points of mutual influence. The earliest extant pen drawing by Josef dates from 1911, and is a view from his bedroom window in Stadtlohn. It features a night sky that is rendered in minute quadrilateral cross-hatching—warp and weft in Indian ink, as tight and neat and monochrome as one of Anni's late-period tapestries.

The rectangular fixation was present in him even when he was not painting at all. At the Bauhaus he made furniture, and some of his work from those years is at the foundation. There are his famous stacking tables, rectangles within rectangles; a square bookcase made from boards that hold together like the pieces of a Chinese puzzle; and a cuboid light fitting in which each of the 12 edges is a white neon tube, while the eight corners, into which the tubes slot, are blank black dice. It is a brilliant piece of decorative art, very mid-century but also timeless. Here, too, is a whitewashed fireplace that Josef designed for a house in North Haven, Connecticut. It is made of bricks that are laid at an angle, so that each one has a corner jutting outwards. When the light falls on this edifice from the side, it creates a pattern of shadowy triangles in grey tones, a signature Anni Albers effect.

All this is the Alberses' concrete legacy, the artistic inheritance that the foundation exists to preserve. But there are other, less tangible aspects to their joint life's work. One is Josef's influence as a teacher. "Imparting technique was vital to him," says Weber. "He taught his students to write their names upside down, mirror image, and mirror image upside down. He believed that an artist needs skill of hand. For him, all art started with technique, no question about it."

His most famous pupil, from the Black Mountain years, was Robert Rauschenberg—who totally rejected Josef 's teaching while retaining a high regard for the teacher himself. "I was Albers's dunce," Rauschenberg later told his biographer Calvin Tomkins, "the outstanding example of what he was not talking about. [But] years later I am still learning what he taught me... the development of your own personal sense of looking... What he taught had to do with the whole visual world, and it applies to whatever you are doing, gardening or painting or whatever."

Josef and Anni also made an important contribution as collectors. They amassed more than 2,000 pre-Columbian works—not just clay figurines, but also textiles. For them, this was a way of exploring something essential about art, about the way that certain forms and patterns recur across cultures, and about how in art—as in myth and dreams—there are archetypes that appeal to human consciousness. "The word archetype certainly applies," says Weber. "Both of them had a love for what was universal and pertained to all cultures.

And they both believed in the making of art as the most fundamental thing in life. They didn't go out and socialise; they didn't go to funerals or weddings. Josef, I think, saw himself as a servant to the god of colour, and the god of line. He had the mentality of a monk or a priest, someone who believes in something higher, and believes in himself as the intermediary."

In the library at the foundation is a sketch by Josef (on graph paper, naturally) that is a design for an alphabet. Each letter is made up of a combination of 10 basic shapes—semicircles and subtle rhomboids that, one imagines, might easily be carved in wood or made into ink stamps. This typographical excursion seems to sum up everything the Alberses valued: curiosity, simplicity, economy, creativity, utility.

"He wasn't satisfied with the zee," says Weber, looking at the two neat rows of letters. "He said he never got it right. Then one day he told me that he had suddenly figured it out. He drew it on a scrap of paper, gave it to me and said, 'Nick, you are the keeper of the zee.' I have always thought of that as my job description: keeper of the zee."


Josef Albers
Homage to the Square, 1962
oil on masonite
24 x 24 in. (60.9 x 60.9 cm)

Homage to Josef Albers: Writers Pay Tribute to a Pioneer of Abstraction

In Josef Albers: Midnight and Noon, David Zwirner has put together a comprehensive book that looks both generally and specifically at Albers's seminal Homage to the Square series, by way of various writers, including Nicholas Fox Weber, Elaine de Kooning, and Colm Tóibín. The contributors discuss their relationships to both the series and the artist, and the impact of both on their practice and understanding of art. The book is in response to two exhibitions: Grey Steps, Grey Scales, Grey Ladders, which focused on the artist's use of gray, black, and white throughout his career, and Sunny Side Up, which explored his use of vibrant color. The shows were, respectively, at the New York and London David Zwirner Gallery locations between 2016 and 2017.

"Every color, every form should speak with its own voice," Albers explained in relation to the work he was more or less obsessed with from 1949 until his death in 1976. Homage to the Square is characterized by a superimposition of squares in distinct colors—often capturing two opposing moments, moods, times of day, or seasons—to explore the myriad possible visual effects through color and spatial relationships alone. In his introduction to the book, Nicholas Fox Weber, Executive Director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, shares an anecdote about Albers: "I will never forget him showing me a grey-black Homage to the Square next to one composed of three different yellows. The paintings were the same size and the identical format: 'You see, Nick,' Josef said, his eyes widening with sheer delight. 'Look at what you have in art! Midnight and noon at the same time. In life, they are never concurrent. But painting gives us unprecedented gifts.'"

The harmonious dualism found in each of Albers's paintings in this series provides viewers with haiku-esque glimpses into suspended moments in time, hybridized within the borders of the canvas. The artist's methodology grew out of his time spent in Germany as a teacher at the Bauhaus, where discipline in the act of art-making was paramount. Among the school's rules was, as American architect Louis Sullivan explained, "form follows function." Such a requirement can only lend itself to highly structural work, where geometry, color, and format mirror the triangulated relationship between artist, work, and viewer. But with the rise of Nazism came the permeation of repression, and by 1933, the Bauhaus School was forced to close its doors and Albers and his wife Anni fled the country for America. Albers arrived at a time when artists, as well as writers, dancers, and singers, were growing increasingly interested in interdisciplinary practices and experiments in form. He began his teaching residency at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, where students were required to consider the modern and the abstract in all mediums. Among his peers were Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, and many others. Though the school only lasted until 1955, its ideology spread new artistic practices across the country like a pandemic.

During this time, Albers was producing iteration after iteration of his square, feeding off the linguistic minds that surrounded him. One particular influence was poet Charles Olson, who, in his essay "Projective Verse," qualifies poetic language as "energy transferred from where the poet got it ... all the way over to, the reader ... a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge." Albers doesn't directly refer to Olson as an influence, but it's clear that they were both thinking similar thoughts at simultaneous moments. While Olson (along with his dear friend, poet Robert Creeley) was trying to navigate notions of kinetic language, understanding how language could function within its own parameters without the need for a human to utter it. Albers was exploring the "choice of the colors used, as well as their order ... [as] an interaction—influencing and changing each other forth and back." So Albers was also considering variations of kinetics in painting, especially through the use of color, and, just like a writer experiences when she writes (as Elaine de Kooning articulately explains), was moving through "a long series of rejections—an arduous and complicated exercise of the element of choice." This series of rejections is like sifting through a word bank to produce a line of text, just as Albers would, with a ruler, persistently, comb a blend of sounds and visual effects through color or word choice. All leading up to the sharp edge, the line break. As Irish novelist Colm Tóibín explains, "it is at the edge that much of the power emerges, the colors move in lovely conflict and sometimes fierce contrast and sometimes easy harmony. They throw light on each other."

As a teacher at Black Mountain College and a pioneer of Abstraction, Albers discussed these notions with his students, who happened to also be writers thinking about how to redefine language with a sociopolitical purpose, to push the boundaries of the classical, and to move into postwar experimentation. It's through works like Homage to the Square—works that existed over a long period of time, adapting to the ever-changing environment in which they were conceived—that the sharp edges of a painting, of a poem, of a dancing body, became smoother, if not legible.


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.