Described by Tate as “long overdue”, on Thursday 11 October 2018 an extensive retrospective of textile designer Anni Albers’ pivotal contributions to modern art and design opened at London’s Tate Modern. Albers was a student at the much-celebrated Bauhaus school, and as an alumni of this radical institution, her name sits alongside some of the most influential figures from the worlds of architecture, art and design. However, despite her historical importance, she is often overlooked and this will be the first ever UK exhibition of her work.
Bauhaus philosophy is one that addresses the need for effective, efficient and affordable design. The school’s founding and most-quoted principle is, “form follows function”. This meant that Bauhaus design processes put the function of a product at the top of the hierarchy of needs applied to any piece of furniture, accessory or interior. This helped shaped the utilitarian style of the era that took inspiration from architectural Modernism but made a number of exciting new materials and manufacturing methods available to the masses. Having graduated from Istanbul’s School of Fine Arts, Topfloor founder Esti was lucky enough to have studied under tutors, such as Boris Niemann, who moved to Turkey from the Bauhaus school. Esti explains, “They opened our eyes to contemporary design.” This influential education later became a catalyst for the Metallica collection, inspired by Bauhaus style.
As Tate prepares to open it’s showcase of one Bauhaus woman’s legacy, here are three whose stories continue to inspire us today.
Combining the ancient craft of hand-weaving with the language of modern art, Albers found, within this medium, endless opportunities for the expression of modern life. Berlin-born, Annelise Else Frieda Fleischmann joined the Bauhaus school as a student in 1922. It was at the school that she rubbed shoulders with key modernist figures such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, and it is also where she met famed artist and educator Josef Albers, who she soon married.
While the Bauhaus was radical in its approach to most things, including gender equality, there were still obstacles that meant Albers was discouraged from certain disciplines and began weaving by default. Fortunately, the young designer thrived in this realm and used her craft as a way to tell incredible stories and document the highs and lows of living.
Renowned painter, photographer and Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy recognised Marianne Brandt’s unique talent at an early stage of her studies. With his support and encouragement, she broke rank among gender stereotypes and studied in the male domain of the metal workshop, ultimately becoming more successful and influential than many of her peers. Brandt’s metal objects for everyday use are still hallmarks of the Dessau Bauhaus and she is celebrated not only as a pioneer in metalwork, but as a widely recognised woman in an aggressively masculine industry.
She continued her training at the Bauhaus and continued her work in the metal workshop with Moholy-Nagy. By 1926 she had already designed the first lighting fixtures for the Bauhaus Building in Dessau. From the summer semester of 1927, she was in charge of technical experiments in lighting in the metal workshop. From May 1928 to 1st July 1929, she was the director of the metal workshop.
Undoubtedly inspired by the likes of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, Gertrud Arndt’s ambition was to become an architect, but it was only when we arrived at the Bauhaus in 1923 that she realised architecture classes were not yet part of the school’s offering. Instead, she began crafting geometrically patterned rugs in the weaving workshop. Famously, one of these textile design adorned the floor of Gropius’ own office. In spite of her way with weaving, it was Arndt’s photography practice that she honed outside of the structured Bauhaus workshops.
Beginning by photographing the buildings and urban landscapes around her, Arndt’s photography skills were all self-taught. She began assisting her husband’s architecture firm, shooting their project sites and buildings, but it was a series of unique self-portraits titled Mask Portraits that ultimately shaped her legacy. The series shows Arndt performing a range of traditional female roles wearing a profusion of veils, lace, and hats and is now seen as a pivotal precursor to feminist artists such as Cindy Sherman.
Read more about Anni Albers at Tate and watch the trailer for her retrospective here.