I thoroughly enjoy Michael Beirut’s Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design. These are my thoughts on one of those seventy-nine.
A Response to Homage to the Squares
Much like Mr. Beirut, my initial Josef Albers experience did not expand much beyond than Interaction of Color, though I was not forced to trek through the mud of the exercises but rather bought a copy on recommendation. I found a handful of the images in the back of the book pleasing, read the first dozen or so pages and grew bored. So was my relationship with the Alberses.
That is, until I picked up a used copy of Josef + Anni Ablers: Designs for Living. I delighted in the samples of the couple’s extraordinary work, but found myself most intrigued by their connection on levels of principle and sensibility, an understanding that every choice in their lives was an important design decision that would impact quality of life.
Says author Fox Weber, ‘they were like a two-person religious sect….In every aesthetic choice they were allies.’ When Josef Albers was abroad, Anni wrote to tell him she had slightly adjusted the living room furniture. She wrote to tell him that she had found a decent pair of slacks suitable for Maine, or that she would like him to pick up linen jackets for the two of them.
While the Albers never collaborated directly (Charles and Ray Eames come to mind),there can be seen in their work the ideals and preferences they shared so closely. Josef’s skyscraper paintings belong in the same world as Anni’s wall hangings, just as Anni’s jewelry belongs on the neck of someone sitting on one of Josef’s chairs. They were not partners in the office, but were partners in life.
Beirut beautifully sums up why the Alberses’ way of living and designing was successful when he compares Josef’s account of his approach, ‘I paint the way I spread butter on pumpernickel,’ to an abstract and obnoxiously long-winded rant by another designer. That being said, I feel I should text my wife and ask her to pick me up a jacket I’ve been eyeing, one well-cut with quality materials, and classically understated in style. I have a feeling Josef would approve.