David Zwirner is pleased to present Josef and Anni and Ruth and Ray as the inaugural exhibition at the gallery’s 34 East 69th Street location. Featuring work by Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, and Ray Johnson—all of whom were at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in the late 1940s—this exhibition will explore both the aesthetic and personal dialogue between these artists during their Black Mountain years and beyond; and will include a number of works exchanged amongst the group, in addition to a selection of key compositions influenced by their time there.
Josef and Anni Albers arrived at Black Mountain College in 1933, both having studied and subsequently taught at the Bauhaus for nearly a decade. It was through the Alberses that the pedagogy of the famed German art school, which espoused ideals of radical experimentation and an open interchange of ideas, was imported and adapted in their new setting. As Asawa recalls, Josef Albers would open his Basic Design course by saying, “Open your eyes and see. My aim is to make you see more than you want to. I am here to destroy your prejudices. If you already have a style don’t bring it with you. It will only be in the way”¹ —in essence paraphrasing the aesthetic philosophy that came to define Black Mountain College as a progressive and avant-garde institution in those years. Johnson arrived as a student in 1945, and Asawa subsequently in 1946—both quickly availing themselves of the Alberses’s guidance, which was particularly unexpected in the case of Johnson, whose nontraditional approach contrasted with the older artists’ formal rigor.
The influence of Josef and Anni Albers is especially visible in Asawa’s and Johnson’s works from the period, a number of which will be on view. Rather than emphasize technique in his classes, Albers pushed his students to focus on, as in his own work, the articulation of form through color by asking them to limit themselves to a small number of basic shapes and motifs. For example, in a painting on paper from c. 1946-1949 inscribed and gifted to Anni Albers, Asawa uses subtle modifications in color and form to create a sense of depth and motion within the otherwise flat picture plane. Similarly in a rare figurative composition by Johnson from 1946, watercolor shapes and colors overlap and coalesce to form an abstracted portrait of Asawa, later given to her.
Other highlights from the exhibitions include two vibrant Leaf Studies by Josef Albers made by adhering leaves from Black Mountain’s environs (a motif also used by Asawa) to colored paper that were recently featured in the traveling exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957; Asawa’s first looped-wire sculpture from 1949; a group of Moticos by Johnson sent to Asawa in San Francisco; and a Pictorial Weaving by Anni Albers from 1950.