Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Retrospective, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany


Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, A 19, 1927
Oil on canvas, 80 x 96 cm
Courtesy Hattula Moholy-Nagy

October 8, 2009 – February 7, 2010

The Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) became known in Germany through his seminal work as a teacher at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau (1923–1928) under Walter Gropius’s direction. Taking responsibility for the preliminary course and the metal workshop, he decisively informed the Constructivist and social reorientation of the Bauhaus. Interlinking art, life, and technology and underscoring the visual and the material aspects in design were key issues of his work and resulted in a modern, technology-oriented language of forms. His pioneering theories on art as a testing ground for new forms of expression and their application to all spheres of modern life are still of influence today. Presenting about 170 works – paintings, photographs and photograms, sculptures and films, as well as stage set designs and typographical projects – the retrospective encompasses all phases of his oeuvre. The exhibition at the Schirn also presents the Raum der Gegenwart (Room of Today), which offers a concise summary of Moholy-Nagy’s work and has not been built before 2009.

No other teacher at the Bauhaus, nor nearly any other artist of the 1920s in Germany, developed such a wide range of ideas and activities as Moholy-Nagy. His oeuvre bears evidence to the fact that he considered painting and film, photography and sculpture, stage set design, drawing, and the photogram to be of equal importance. He continually fell back upon these means of expression, using them alternately, varying them, and taking them up again as parts of a universal concept whose pivot was the alert, curious, and unrestrained experimental mind of the “multimedia” artist himself. Long before people began to talk about “media design” and professional “marketing”, Moholy-Nagy worked in these fields, too – as a guiding intellectual force in terms of new technical, design and educational instruments.

In spite of his manifold activities and inventions in the sphere of so-called applied art, Moholy-Nagy by no means advocated abolishing free art. Before, during, and long after his years at the Bauhaus, he produced numerous paintings, drawings, collages, woodcuts, and linocuts, as well as photographs and films as autonomous works of art. Like his design solutions, his works in the classical arts, in painting and sculpture, also reveal his aesthetically and conceptually radical approach. He also pursued new paths with his famous Light-Space Modulator of 1930, conceiving his gesamtkunstwerk composed of color, light, and movement as an “apparatus for the demonstration of the effects of light and movement.” It was equally new territory he conquered in the fields of photography and film: considering his cameraless photography, his photograms, and his abstract films, Moholy-Nagy must still be regarded as one of the most important twentieth-century photographers and key figures for today’s media theories.

Thanks to his experiments with photography and the photogram, László Moholy-Nagy was one of the first typographers of the 1920s to recognize the new possibilities offered by the combination of typeface, surface design, and pictorial signs with recent photographic techniques. As a Bauhaus teacher for typography, he designed almost all of the 14 Bauhaus books published between 1925 and 1929 and – besides co-editing them with Walter Gropius – took care of the entire presentation of the books’ contents and their production.

After he had left the Bauhaus in 1928, he founded his own office in Berlin, where he, among other things, developed advertising solutions for Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s designs for the Jena Glassworks. Faced with the Nazis’ seizure of power, Moholy-Nagy emigrated to the United States and founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937 and, after it had been closed, the Chicago School (and later Institute) of Design in 1939. László Moholy-Nagy died in Chicago in 1946.