When Nicholas Fox Weber GRD ’72 was studying for his master’s degree in history of art at Yale, he went to the Yale University Art Gallery to look at Vincent van Gogh’s “The Night Café” almost every day. He became an art historian because he “loved looking at paintings from the time [he] was a little kid,” he said.
While Weber was at Yale, he met Josef and Anni Albers, the artists from the Bauhaus school who lived in Connecticut after Josef Albers’s retirement from teaching at Yale. That meeting resulted in a long-lasting friendship. Weber, currently the executive director of the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Conn., recently published a book called “The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modernism,” which draws on his experiences with the Alberses while at Yale. In a phone interview from Paris, Weber discussed his friendship with the Alberses, his connection to the Bauhaus school and studying at Yale.
Q In your most recent book you look at six artists from the Bauhaus. Why six artists?
A The six artists I picked I’m not saying were the six most important people. It’s a very personal book. They are the six people whose vision I think are the most original and beautiful. I can’t really write about László Moholy-Nagy because I don’t really love and admire his work. I don’t claim this is a scholarly account of the Bauhaus. I had the good fortune to know two of the greatest people at the Bauhaus [Josef and Anni Albers], and through them I had a personal knowledge of some of the other people. [The point of the book is] to share the information that I was lucky enough to acquire. Because of the way I knew the Alberses it’s as if I was writing about family.
Q Why did you decide to research the Bauhaus?
A To really know the Bauhaus is when you sit and have coffee and strudel with Josef and Anni and they start talking to you about Paul Klee’s 50th birthday party. What I learned from being with the Alberses — no amount of research could have equaled that experience. It was to go, as my wife did, with Anni to the Boston Post Road to see Anni use her eye to buy kitchenware.
Q What was it like meeting the Alberses while you were at Yale?
A The first thing that Josef Albers said to me was “What do you do, boy?” I said, “I’m studying art history at Yale.” And then he said, “Do you like it, boy?” I said, “Well, no sir, I really don’t.” I was nervous to answer that. He said “Why not, boy?” I said, “Well, I’m terribly sorry. I feel like I’m losing my passion for looking at art.” There was such an emphasis on information at the time [in the History of Art Department]. I had spent the past six weeks in a library basement, researching. When I told him this he said, “This I like, boy. Which of those bastards in art history don’t you like?” He then said, “What does your father do?” I wanted to tell him what my mother did. My mother was a painter. She was terribly excited I was getting to meet Josef Albers. I said, “My father has a printing company,” and he said, “Then you’re not just an art historian. You know something about something.” It was an introduction to how opinionated, how passionate he was — Anni Albers was looking on to this scene. I would go visit them. I had the idea of writing a book about Anni Albers. I loved to see them. My recommendation to all students is to think of Anni Albers’s wonderful advice that you can go anywhere from anywhere.
Q Why did you feel like you were losing your passion for art?
A I know it’s quite disrespectful to say these things about graduate school. I also had some wonderful teachers. By and large, the emphasis in graduate school was a level of scholarship that didn’t have an element of passion in it. I learned certain things. It was a complex period. Many of us were deeply opposed to Vietnam. Graduate school was not necessarily an exemption. I absolutely adored studying with Vincent Scully ’40 GRD ’49. I’m still full of admiration for him, but that’s because he had that incredible flare. He took such pleasure in looking and helped us to see, and when art history was about seeing it was very exciting.