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Anni and Josef Albers in Kunstmuseum Den Haag

Until January 15, 2023, a retrospective exhibition of the work of artist couple Anni and Josef Albers can be seen in Kunstmuseum Den Haag. 

In 1920, Josef Albers (1888-1976) goes to study at the Bauhaus, founded a year earlier, then still in Weimar. In 1922 Josef – who by then is already supervising students – comes into contact with Anni Fleischmann (1899-1994), who is more than eleven years his junior. They start a relationship, and in 1925 the couple marries. In the same year Josef is appointed professor at the Bauhaus, which moves to Dessau in the same year.

Due to the rise of the Nazi regime, Bauhaus, by then established in Berlin, disbands in 1933. Anni – now known as Anni Albers – and Josef flee Germany that same year. They settle in the American state of North Carolina and continue their lives as artists there. Josef goes on to teach at Black Mountain College in Asheville (NC), founded in 1933, and Anni develops into an authority in her field. In 1949 she became the first textile artist to have a solo exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

During her studies, Anni Albers is pushed against her will in the textile direction, the only direction open to female students at the time. In her writing, titled ‘Material as Metaphor’, Albers mentions her Bauhaus beginnings: “In my case it was threads that caught me, really against my will. To work with threads seemed sissy to me. I wanted something to be conquered. But circumstances held me to threads and they won me over” (Danilowitz 2000).

Anni Albers, Red Meander, 1954

Anni Albers, Red Meander, 1954
Linen and cotton, 52 x 37.5

Josef also experiments freely, but with colour. He explores the physical and emotional effect of colour, initially through geometric compositions of glass. Within the medium of painting, he develops a unique abstract visual language in which everything revolves around the visual interaction of colour. These experiments eventually lead to his famous Homage to the Square series, which will grow to some two thousand works between 1950 and 1976. “Always the same three squares in each other, with different colour combinations. For the proportions he used complicated mathematical formulas that you as a visitor do not have to know to feel the effect. Yellow that radiates from the canvas in combination with orange, sinks away next to grey. Colours, as you learn from Josef Albers, are actually just like people. Their personality changes along with their company” (Van Binsbergen in the Volkskrant).

Central and South America
As a child, Anni is already fascinated by the Peruvian fabrics in the Berlin museums that she visits with her parents. Once in the US, Anni and Josef Albers regularly travel to Peru, Chile and especially Mexico. There they are inspired by the colours and patterns of Central and South American culture.
The confrontation with the geometric architecture, the pottery, which, just like with the Bauhaus, is art and utensil at the same time, and of course the textile tradition feels like coming home for the artist couple. Hence Josef calls Mexico ‘the promised land of abstract art’.

Anni Albers, Red and Blue Layers, 1954

Anni Albers, Red and Blue Layers, 1954
Cotton, 61.6 x 37.8

It turns out to be a golden match. Anni Albers experiments with materials and techniques all her life. She makes the weaving pattern an explicit part of her compositions and combines threads of jute and cotton with metal thread or synthetic material such as cellophane. “With her ‘pictorial weavings’, she changed the status of weaving. They are not intended to be walked on or sat on, but only to be looked at. So you do, full of amazement and amazement about what you can do with simple threads. Depth, layering, rhythm and even emotion: these subtle and complex fabrics have it all” (Van Binsbergen in the Volkskrant).
Because of her unconventional use of materials, her innovative style and her commitment to the emancipation of weaving as a visual art, Anni Albers becomes one of the founders of modern textile art.

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square, 1957

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square, 1957
Oil on masonite, 61 x 61 cm

Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square - Blue Depth, 1961

Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square:
Blue Depth, 1961

Oil on hardboard, 81 x 81 cm

His paintings refer to Aztec monuments and in his Adobe series the basic forms of the plump, clay-built buildings from Central America can be recognized. But Josef is actually more about colour. His painting is a rational investigation. He once described applying paint to hardboard with a palette knife as ‘buttering a slice of bread’.

The exhibition brings together more than 200 works – paintings, photographs, furniture, drawings, textiles – by the artist couple Anni Albers and Josef Albers. The selection consists of masterpieces from the oeuvre of both artists, which are shown chronologically and thematically.
The exhibition also shows how the life and work of this artist couple are closely connected. Although they work with different materials, they share the same attitude to life, artistic vision, curiosity about the other and sources of inspiration. The focus is on experimentation and the challenge to arrive at the most innovative compositions on the basis of self-imposed restrictions in the field of colour, shape, or use of materials.

More information
The exhibition Anni and Josef Albers in Kunstmuseum Den Haag can be seen from Tuesday to Sunday (10 am to 5 pm). The exhibition will run until January 15, 2023. Address: Stadhouderslaan 41, 2517 HV The Hague. Contact: 0031 70 338 11 11,,
A catalogue has been published to accompany the exhibition, entitled Anni + Josef Albers, with Frouke van Dijke as the main author. The catalogue is published by WBOOKS in Zwolle.
Also view the episode of Nu te zien (in Dutch!) on NPO Start, in which Paulo Martina, director of Stedelijk Museum Zutphen and Museum Henriette Polak, recommends this exhibition.

Danilowitz, Brenda (ed.) (2000). Anni Albers: selected writings on design. Hanover: University Press of New England.
Dijksterhuis, Edo (2022). Eindelijk gerechtigheid voor het oeuvre van kunstenaars Anni en Josef Albers. Het Parool, 17 October 2022.
Kunstmuseum Den Haag,
Van Binsbergen, Sarah (2022). Al in de eerste zaal van het Kunstmuseum voel je de verwantschap tussen Anni en Josef Albers. Volkskrant, 1 December 2022.