Josef Albers died 42 years ago, and yet yours is the first full biography to be written – why has it taken so long?
It’s odd isn’t it? It’s partly because he was so secretive. When I said I was doing this book, Magdalena Droste, the queen of Bauhaus scholarship, said: ‘Why did you choose Albers? He’s so pale’. I think what she meant is that he made himself appear colourless and inscrutable and unknowable, and I think that’s probably part of the reason why it has taken so long.
I think it was also that he had gone to America and people couldn’t quite decide what he was. He was quite old when he ‘made it’, so there was the question of whether an old man can really make new art. When they went to America, something that drove both him and Anni Albers mad was that they were treated as artefacts rather than as people, because they had been to the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus became a kind of albatross round his neck.
That he was secretive made the book more difficult to write, but also much more compelling. There’s nothing like secrets to make one dig. I do think he would have hated this book, really. The idea of anybody writing about him personally, he would have loathed. I would love somebody to write the book about him and Anni though. That’s a very important book, because they really were the powerhouse Bauhaus couple.
He comes across as rather a dreadful man! He was a terrible womaniser – Anni had a lot to put up with.
Yes, at one point I thought, gosh this is horrid, he’s grabbing all these girls and squeezing their breasts – in these Me Too days he’d have been in jail. The mere fact that other people were doing it too doesn’t excuse it. All of that and then of course he was going to Mass every day; there’s something tortured in there.
Anni was quite lame as she got older, and an ex student remembered that when they were old and at Yale, Josef had made furniture out of car seats secured on heavy blocks of wood. Anni would have to move them to vacuum – there was no question of them getting in help or of Josef doing the vacuuming.