Advertisement
Art Market

Essential Tips for Collecting Work by Anni and Josef Albers

It is difficult to overstate the profound influence that and have had on the course of art history. Among the most pivotal and celebrated figures of 20th-century modernism, the couple devoted their lives to the study and continual exploration of form and color. “Really no artist working with geometric abstraction and color theory since the latter part of the 20th century can fail to have been influenced, in some way, by the practice and the ideas of the two artists,” said David Cleaton-Roberts, partner at Cristea Roberts Gallery in London. As lifelong teachers, theorists, and explorers, the couple’s vision, pioneering experimentations in material, and approach to artmaking are inextricable from our understandings of modern and contemporary art.
With a wide-spanning collective artistic output that includes textiles, prints, weavings, and paintings, Anni and Josef Albers created a cornucopia of mesmerizing works that have seen consistent market demand for decades. This vast oeuvre also means that collectors have a good deal to consider when looking into a work by the Alberses, whether it be Anni and Josef individually or collaboratively. On the occasion of the upcoming exhibition “L’art et la Vie” at the Musee d’Art Modern de Paris opening on September 10th—the first major museum survey of the couple’s work in tandem—we spoke with several experts on what collectors who are looking to acquire work by these monumental figures in art history ought to know.

Know their history

Anni and Josef met in 1922 at the historic school in Weimar, Germany. There, Josef was both a student and a master teacher working in a range of media including glass assemblage, furniture, and household objects. Anni was a student embarking on what would become her pioneering body of abstract experimentations in weaving and textiles, which have since inspired a renaissance of textile art that dissolves the boundaries between fine art and functional object.
The pair got married in 1925, and in 1933, emigrated to North Carolina to teach at , where they lived until 1949. During this period, Josef explored a variety of collage and printmaking methods and became well known as an abstract painter, while Anni continued to advance her techniques in weaving and textiles and wrote theories on design. In 1950, the couple moved to Connecticut, where Josef was chairman of the department of design at Yale; it was there that he began honing in on his seminal “Homage to the Square” (1949–76) and “Structural Constellation” (1955) series. Anni, meanwhile, began to experiment with printmaking, creating a unique body of abstract works on paper informed by her sensibilities as a textile artist.
“There are few artists who share an authentic voice who can produce such pure visual poetry,” said Jonathan Laib, senior director at David Zwirner, citing the palpable authenticity of Anni’s and Josef’s respective bodies of work. Deceptively simple in their methodical approach, their work—and furthermore, their philosophies about artmaking—reflect a certain exuberance for life and an unrelenting curiosity and reverence for the expressive possibilities of shape and color.
According to Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and a close friend of the couple, for the Alberses, “art was a form of celebration and a great source of optimism.” This sentiment extended beyond their artmaking practices, manifesting as a greater appreciation of art as a constant and source of joy in life. Anni often referred to art as a “visual resting place,” said Weber. Acquiring an Albers work, by extension, is more than simply collecting an artwork. It is an embrace of the artists’ philosophy about life as being profoundly enriched by art.

Seek out the proper educational resources

As artists, teachers, and theorists, Anni and Josef Albers were vehement proponents of exploration and learning. The breadth of their work is extensive and deeply interwoven within our understanding of modern and contemporary art. Developing an understanding of each artist’s contribution to art history and their respective visions is integral to the collection and appreciation of the work.
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation is an excellent resource for researching and learning more about the couple’s vibrant life and practice. For collectors specifically, the foundation appointed David Zwirner as its exclusive representative for Josef’s and Anni’s original works, while editioned works are represented by Cristea Roberts Gallery in London.
“There’s no replacing conversation with scholars and dealers,” said Laib, a director at David Zwirner. “As every collector’s situation is unique and different, the best way to do proper research before making an acquisition is to speak with a gallery director who has a deep familiarity with the work.” He expressed that he and his partner at the gallery, David Leiber, are always eager to discuss the Alberses’ works with those that are curious to learn more.
In addition, Laib suggested referring to recent exhibition texts for in-depth information about the artists’ practices. “Because of the growing interest in their oeuvre, many institutions have organized incredibly noteworthy exhibitions in recent years,” said Laib. “Shows like the Guggenheim’s ‘Josef Albers in Mexico’ from 2017 and Anni Albers’s traveling retrospective at K21: Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen and Tate in 2018 are accompanied by excellent catalogues that are must-haves for anyone interested in learning more about the Alberses.”

Don’t subscribe to trends

Anni and Josef had immense conviction in their practices and way of life, and were never swayed by the changing trends of the art world. Weber advised that collectors would do well to follow their lead by acquiring works that they feel a strong connection with, rather than basing their collecting decisions on what is trending at the moment.
“Both artists were very driven by the idea of experimentation and material diversity,” said Laib. He advised that while the couple’s paintings and weavings are quite well known and revered, collectors should also look to their drawings and editioned prints.
Cleaton-Roberts explained that both artists “have become synonymous with particular images and so typically these ‘signature’ works command higher prices.” While the artist’s earlier and rarer works typically garner intense competition (the couple’s historically significant works from their Bauhaus period are nearly impossible to acquire), both artists made many significant and important bodies of original editioned prints which just as well showcase their beliefs and technical skill. “In the case of both artists, what they achieved in their best prints could not have been realized in any other medium,” said Cleaton-Roberts.

Study the market

The respective markets for the Alberses’ work are distinct, namely because Josef’s body of work is broader and more widely available than Anni’s. Josef created several different iterations of his seminal works such as his iconic “Homage to the Square” series, in which he explored how various juxtapositions of color and form impact the viewer’s perceptions and emotions.
Because his body of work is so extensive, John McCord, co-head of day sales of 20th-century and contemporary art at Phillips, advised that collectors take their time and pay close attention to what comes up for sale. “You don’t need to jump at the first one that comes up,” he said. “You can think about what is interesting to you in terms of color and composition in the series because you do have choices.”
McCord said that “there are so many important works by Josef.” He cited the artist’s “Variants” (1947–1952) and “Formulation Articulation” (1972) print series as being “generally quite affordable, and incredibly expansive.”
While the market has historically gravitated around Josef, in recent years, demand for Anni’s works has also risen significantly. “With the growing recognition of their achievements and influence as artists, writers, and teachers, there has been a resurgence of market interest in both artists’ work,” said Cleaton-Roberts. “Whilst there has been a significant amount of attention on Josef for many years, more recently Anni’s work has undergone a necessary and much deserved reappraisal.”
Part of what has made Anni’s market presence somewhat lesser known is that original and early works—particularly her weavings and wall hangings—are very scarce and almost never sold, as most are housed in museums or have been lost to time. However, Anni’s original prints and drawings do come to market, and many are quite affordable considering their quality.
“I would look very carefully at anything she did by hand,” said Weber. “Her works on paper are undervalued given how few of them there are and the quality of them.”

Check for quality and authenticity

When acquiring an Albers work, Cleaton-Roberts advised that collectors “only buy from well-respected print dealers or galleries who are experts in their field and can provide clear information, provenance, and condition reports.”
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation has a committee dedicated to reviewing submitted works for authenticity and produces a printed catalogue raisonné with detailed information about editions. “Anything that is at auction or sold by a gallery should have a definitive statement in writing that it will be in the catalogues raisonnés,” said Weber. If a work has not been cleared for authenticity, collectors should steer clear.
Cleaton-Roberts also recommended that collectors check the condition of the work in person, as “the condition is absolutely vital with Albers prints and damage will reduce their value significantly.” Specifically for the artists’ works on paper, he advised that collectors should always see the work out of frame, as many of the artists’ prints are made using fragile techniques which can be damaged easily if mishandled while framing or displayed.

Trust your intuition

Both avid collectors themselves, the Alberses were driven by passion and inspiration on an aesthetic and technical level, but also on an emotional and philosophical level. “Anni Albers loved the subject of collecting, because she felt that it was always possible to collect very well by buying the things that not everyone else was buying,” said Weber. “She and Josef amassed a fantastic collection of pre-Columbian textiles, figurines, all sorts of pottery, and so on for very little money” in their frequent and beloved travels to Mexico and South America.
He expressed that collectors would do very well in the long run by looking for works within each artist’s oeuvre that are lesser known and to have faith in their own judgement and to allow emotion to guide them, rather than the prospect of financial gain. In a sense, collectors ought to abide by the same exuberance and passion for art that Anni and Josef themselves were so relentlessly compelled by. “You will end up with a better investment in every sense of the word—an emotional investment, and something that will improve your life,” said Weber.
Jillian Billard