Philip Johnson

The architect Philip Johnson first encountered the Alberses when he visited the Dessau Bauhaus. Then, in the summer of 1933, following the closing of the Bauhaus, he encountered Anni by chance on a street in Berlin. She invited him for tea at her and Josef’s apartment, as she was proud of the white linoleum floors and felt that Johnson would appreciate them.

When Johnson arrived, he saw some textiles which he assumed were made by Lily Reich. Anni said that in fact they were by her. Johnson felt that there was an injustice, that Reich was taking credit for something by Anni. Determined, somehow, to right the injustice, he asked Anni if she and Josef would like to come to America, to which she replied, “Why not?”

Johnson and a young colleague, Edward M.M. Warburg, were both working, unpaid, as curators at the new Museum of Modern Art. When Johnson returned from Europe, Warburg told him that Black Mountain College was looking for a good art teacher who could make art the focal point of the curriculum at the school. Warburg had learned about Black Mountain from his cousin Margaret Lewisohn, who had heard about it from Ted Dreier’s mother Ethel Dreier over tea at New York’s Cosmopolitan Club. Warburg and Johnson decided that Josef Albers, whose dynamism they both admired, would be the ideal person to take the new position, and invited the Alberses to the U.S. and subsequently paved the way for their easily getting visas and the other necessary documents. Warburg and Johnson also arranged for Josef and Anni’s steamship journey—first class on the SS Europa—to be funded, and for their initial annual salaries—$1500 for Josef, $100 for Anni—to be covered by donors.

Philip Johnson by Carl van Vechen, 1932