Josef & Anni Albers in CT
January 24 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
New Haven Museum, 114 Whitney Ave
New Haven, CT 06510 United States
With the approaching centenary of the Bauhaus—perhaps the most important school of design in the 20th century—Connecticut artist and designer Bob Gregson will offer his reflections on Josef and Anni Albers, two Bauhaus members and later Connecticut residents, who became leading pioneers of 20th-century modernism, in a free presentation at the New Haven Museum at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 24, 2019.
Sponsored by Connecticut Explored, the magazine of Connecticut history, Gregson’s lecture will be based on his article in the magazine’s Winter 2018 issue, “Josef and Anni Albers in Connecticut.” The evening will include a temporary display of prints donated to the New Haven Museum by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.
Gregson will examine the couple’s monumental influence in the art world, their presence in New Haven, and his impressions on meeting the couple for the first time. Fresh out of Hartford Art School, Gregson secured a job as a gallery assistant in New York City, where his first assignment was to install an exhibition by Josef Albers.
Josef and Anni shared an art partnership but their work did not depend on collaboration. They were distinctly individual artists who contributed their own ideas and points of view. Their lives were informed by a complex history, starting in their native Germany.
The Bauhaus combined craft and fine art with Modernism. It had a profound effect on subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography. Josef was the first Bauhaus student appointed to the faculty, in 1928, joining such artists as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Herbert Bayer, and others who had a major impact on 20th-century culture. In the beginning Josef experimented with glass and decorative arts in addition to painting. He also designed objects and furniture. Anni worked in the weaving program and took classes with Paul Klee, who quickly became her artistic hero, and became head of the weaving department in 1931. Gregson says it was in this period of the Bauhaus that the Alberses formulated their philosophy for art and life: reducing living to a level of simplicity—shedding any excess—and making every decision an aesthetic choice.
In 1933, everything came to a halt when the Nazis padlocked the doors and closed the school. Ultimately the decision was made to emigrate to the United States to accept teaching positions at the newly created Black Mountain College in Ashville, North Carolina. Josef was given a job as professor of art. Anni was appointed assistant professor of art.
The Alberses stayed at Black Mountain College for 16 years. Later, Josef became a visiting professor at the Cincinnati Art Academy and Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Anni was granted a one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art––the first solo exhibition for a textile artist.
In 1950, Josef was offered the chairmanship of the department of design at Yale University. He and Anni bought a small, Cape Cod-style house in New Haven. This reflected their Bauhaus philosophy of simple, stripped-down, mass produced, and off-the-rack living. He began his groundbreaking “Homage to the Square” series, which occupied him for the rest of his remaining 26 years. He called his works “platters to serve color.”
Gregson notes that Josef had a profound effect on architects, artists, and designers at Yale. Many of his students became world famous, while Albers remained in the background. It wasn’t until 1965, when Josef was included in “The Responsive Eye,” a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, that he began to get worldwide recognition for his work on visual perception and color.
Both Anni and Josef had remarkable careers during the several decades that they lived and worked in Connecticut. In 1971 Josef became the first living artist ever to have a major retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He designed many works of public art and received many honorary degrees. The Alberses established the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation in 1971, as its website states, to further “the revelation and evocation of vision through art.”
Anni published “On Designing” in 1959 and “On Weaving” in 1965. In the 1970s, she focused exclusively on graphic art. The Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. held a major exhibition of her woven and graphic work in 1985, and her work was featured at the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery. She received numerous honors and honorary degrees, and in 1994 was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.
“Connecticut has been the home to many of the world’s most significant 20th century artists. and Josef and Anni Albers both are Modernist art trailblazers,” says Elizabeth Normen, publisher of Connecticut Explored. “We don’t know of a better way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus than to attend a well-illustrated lecture by artist and author Bob Gregson. Any fan of Modern art and architecture will enjoy this lecture.”