Women Making Moves: Immigrant Artists in NMWA’s Collection

As life in Europe became increasingly dangerous during World War II, some artists sought new lives abroad. Burgeoning art movements springing from major cities in North America shifted the art world spotlight away from Europe. European-born artists Anni Albers, Eva Hesse, and Remedios Varo became prominent figures in their respective art movements after fleeing Europe for North America.

Anni Albers, Untitled, 1969; Serigraph on paper; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, NMWA

Anni Albers, Untitled, 1969; Serigraph on paper; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, NMWA

Anni Albers (1899–1994)

Anni Albers grew up in Germany and met her husband, fellow artist Josef Albers, at the Bauhaus in the 1920s. Albers experimented with textiles, creating abstract woven wall hangings, and became Head of the Weaving Workshop in 1931—a senior position that was rare for a woman. In 1933, the Albers couple moved to the U.S. to escape the pressures of Nazi control. Both taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and exhibited work around the country. In 1949, she became the first weaver to have a solo exhibition at MoMA. Her contributions to both textile and printmaking traditions earned her honorary doctorates, lifetime achievement awards, a gold medal from the American Craft Council, and an induction into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

Eva Hesse, Study for Sculpture, 1970; Sculp-Metal, cord, Elmer’s glue, acrylic paint, and varnish on Masonite, 10 x 10 x 1 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © The Estate of Eva Hesse, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, London

Eva Hesse, Study for Sculpture, 1970; Sculp-Metal, cord, Elmer’s glue, acrylic paint, and varnish on Masonite, 10 x 10 x 1 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © The Estate of Eva Hesse, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, London

Eva Hesse (1936–1970)

Eva Hesse was born into a Jewish family in Nazi Germany. When she was 3 years old, her parents moved the family to the U.S. to flee the Nazi regime. Hesse studied under Josef Albers at Yale before working as an artist in New York City in the 1960s. She exhibited watercolors and drawings in 1961, and continued working in this medium during the first half of the decade. In 1965, Hesse moved to Germany for one year, where she experimented with making abstract sculptures. Once back in New York, Hesse continued her sculpture practice and was featured in the exhibition Eccentric Abstraction at Fischbach Gallery. Tragically, Hesse died from cancer in 1969 after only ten years of art making—but her influence on contemporary sculpture continues.

Remedios Varo, Tejido espacio-tiempo (Weaving of Space and Time), 1954; Oil on Masonite, 32 1/2 x 28 x 2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift from Private Collection

Remedios Varo (1908–1963)

Remedios Varo, originally from Spain, was forced to migrate as a result of war—twice. Varo moved to Paris to escape the Spanish Civil War, where she met and worked with the Surrealists who greatly influenced her work. Then, in 1941, the Nazi invasion forced Varo to flee again, this time to Mexico. Once there, she became a part of a community of artists, and continued working in a Surrealist style with her friend Leonora Carrington. After only a few years of having her work featured in solo exhibitions, Varo suffered a fatal heart attack in 1963. Her works have been shown in Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art and NMWA held a retrospective of more than 50 of her pieces in 2000. To further cement her impact on American culture, her work Los Amantes inspired imagery in Madonna’s 1995 music video for her song “Bedtime Story.”

Experience the legacy of these immigrant artists by visiting the museum in person or online today!

Meghan Masius is the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Anni Albers

Impress your friends with five fast facts about designer Anni Albers (1899–1994), whose work is on view in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today through February 28, 2015.

Anni Albers (1899–1994)

Anni Albers, Tikal, 1958; Cotton, 30 x 23 in.; Museum of Arts and Design; Gift of the Johnson Wax Company, through the American Craft Council, 1979; Photo by Eva Heyd

Anni Albers, Tikal, 1958; Cotton, 30 x 23 in.; Museum of Arts and Design; Gift of the Johnson Wax Company, through the American Craft Council, 1979; Photo by Eva Heyd

1. Jack(ie) of all Trades

Though best known as a textile designer, German-born Anni Albers dabbled in a variety of fine art and craft mediums. During her career, which began at the Bauhaus in 1922 and continued until her death in 1994, she experimented with lithography, painting, printmaking, jewelry design, and weaving.

2. Berlin to Black Mountain

Albers studied and taught in Germany at Berlin’s famed Bauhaus (1919–1933), a progressive art school that espoused the integration of fine art, craft, and design. When Nazis closed the Bauhaus, Albers and her husband, Josef, immigrated to America to teach at North Carolina’s newly formed, experimental Black Mountain College (1933–1957).

3. Bauhaus is a Very, Very, Very Fine Haus?

Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, believed that women thought in two dimensions while men could grapple with three. As a result, the school restricted female students’ enrollment to “gender appropriate” courses. Barred from architecture and sculpture classes, Albers and her female peers were encouraged to study weaving instead.

Anni Albers, Untitled, 1969; Serigraph on paper; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, NMWA

Anni Albers, Untitled, 1969; Serigraph on paper; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, NMWA

4. Paper Products

NMWA’s collection includes two works on paper by Albers. An untitled screen-print (1969) is composed of vibrant turquoise and red triangles. Albers’s juxtaposition and choice of color create visual vibrations and noise. The more subdued palette of the ink-and-pencil drawing Dr. VII (1973) seems calm and quiet in contrast.

5. Exhibitionist

In 1949, the Museum of Modern Art mounted Anni Albers: Textiles, making Albers the first weaver to have a one-person exhibition at the museum.

—Addie Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Puzzling Pathmakers

Dynamic women designers and artists from the mid-20th century and today create innovative designs, maintain craft traditions, and incorporate new aesthetics into fine art in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Each week, compare and draw parallels between works on view in Pathmakers and NMWA collection favorites.

On view in Pathmakers

Anni Albers, Orange Meander, 1970

Orange Meander’s dense and repetitive patterning calls to mind Albers’s textile works. Her abstract prints focus on geometric formal qualities—thick, straight lines and bold, flat colors. Their meanings are intentionally obscure. The electric orange of the print catches the eye, inviting the viewer to meander within a maze of lines.

Anni Albers, Orange Meander, 1970; Paper and ink, 28 x 24 in.; Museum of Arts and Design, Gift of the artist, through the American Craft Council, 1982; Photo credit Ed Watkins

Anni Albers, Orange Meander, 1970; Paper and ink, 28 x 24 in.; Museum of Arts and Design, Gift of the artist, through the American Craft Council, 1982; Photo credit Ed Watkins

Who made it?

German artist Anni Albers (1899–1994) is primarily known for her work in the textile arts—particularly weaving. She studied textiles at the Bauhaus, a German art and design school, after being turned away from other departments due to her gender. After the Bauhaus closed in 1933, Albers and her husband Josef Albers took teaching positions at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. In 1949 she exhibited at the first textile show in the Museum of Modern Art’s history. In addition to her fine art, she created fabric patterns that could be mass produced and wrote two influential books in her field, On Weaving (1965) and On Designing (1959).

How was it made?

In 1963, Albers began experimenting with printmaking at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles. By 1970, she moved away from textiles and focused on lithography and screen printing—the technique used to create Orange Meander. Color was an integral element in her weavings as well as her prints. Albers noted, “Color . . . involves you in an emotional sense far beyond line.” One of a series of similar prints in different colors, Orange Meander’s bold rectilinear pattern is layered over a second, lighter arrangement, creating an optical dynamism. Lacking a focal point, the asymmetrical design presents several visual points of entry.

Collection Connection

Valerie Jaudon, Ingomar, 1979; Oil and metallic paint on canvas, 80 x 72 in.; NMWA, Gift of Josephine Cockrell Thornton; © Valerie Jaudon; Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Valerie Jaudon, Ingomar, 1979; Oil and metallic paint on canvas, 80 x 72 in.; NMWA, Gift of Josephine Cockrell Thornton; © Valerie Jaudon; Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

In NMWA’s collection, Valerie Jaudon’s Ingomar (1979) likewise takes its inspiration from decorative patterns. Jaudon was associated with the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 1970s, which sought to challenge the long-held belief that the fine arts were superior to the decorative or “feminine” arts.

Jaudon engages with abstraction through decorative motifs. In an effort to discourage the perception of narrative in her works, Jaudon titled her paintings during the 1970s after towns in her home state of Mississippi. Drawing ornamentation from diverse periods and cultures, Ingomar resembles Celtic or Islamic designs. The metallic paint and vigorous brushstrokes in the painting contrast with the exacting and controlled feeling of the precise pattern. This visual puzzle welcomes viewers in, inviting a closer examination of its shimmering surface.

Visit the museum and explore Pathmakers, on view through February 28, 2016.

—Marina MacLatchie was the fall 2015 education and digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.