ANNI ALBERS | London, Tate Modern

Upon entering the Anni Albers exhibition at Tate Modern, we are told that the German-born artist was “committed to uniting the ancient craft of weaving with the language of modern art”, and this refreshing show exemplifies both her innovative, forward-looking approach, and her deep respect for the history and ancient origins of weaving.

Particularly compelling is Albers’ belief in the communicative potential of her woven pieces. Her pictorial weaving was inspired by ancient Peru, where textiles stood in place of written language. Albers wanted to let the threads she wove to become “articulate again”, and her complex, interwoven patterns look almost like script.

The communicative and evocative potential of her art is exemplified throughout the show: a piece called ‘City’ shows what looks to be a warped skyline; in another, ‘Northwesterly’, you can sense the movement of wind.

Albers was interested in the intersection and conflation of form, and explored the connection between textile and architecture through her “fabric walls”, beautifully suspended from the ceiling.

Light was also important to the artist: Albers’ diploma piece is interwoven with transparent cellophane to catch and refract the light in a windowless auditorium; while her commission for the Rockefeller guest house is shot through with metallic thread, in order to provide a shimmering backdrop to evening entertainment.

The exhibition is enhanced by the inclusion of the work of Albers’ tutors, pupils and colleagues. Albers studied at the radical Bauhaus, before fleeing Germany in 1933, and later she taught (with her husband) at Black Mountain College, in North Carolina.

There is also an insight into the artist’s research, writings, designs (including even the numbers and colours of warp threads needed to set up the loom, scrawled in the margins) and original source material that inspired her work.

The final room features Albers’ loom, including samples of the yarn and threads she worked with, and a film that shows it all being used.

Albers felt that leaps forward in technology were leading to regression when it came to our other senses, namely tactility, so in this final room (though not the rest of the exhibition), visitors are invited to touch and engage with the yarn and woven textures. It is wonderful to see Albers’ work being celebrated by Tate, better still to be able to feel it.

You can weave your way to the Anni Albers exhibition until 27 January 2019.

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