Lászlo Moholy-Nagy
Year, Birthplace 1895, Hungary
Year, Place of death 1946, United States
Nationality United States
László Moholy-Nagy studied law and then literature at the University of Budapest. During the war he began to draw. Recovering in Budapest after being injured on the Russian front (during the First World War), he started publishing poems in the journal Jelenkor. He abandoned his law studies at the end of the war to attend evening classes at the Free School of Art in Budapest. During this time he came into contact with avant-garde milieus. At the end of 1919 he went to Vienna where he saw works by Kasimir Malevich, El Lissitsky and Naum Gabo. The following year he was in Berlin. His painting became abstract, influenced by Russian constructivism both in its form and its spirit. He also became close to the Berlin dadaists. He made collages and started to experiment with photographic techniques such as the photogram. In 1922 he exhibited (metal reliefs, among other works) at Der Sturm’s exhibition spaces in Berlin. Involved in the editorial and graphic design of the journal Ma, he and Lajos Kassak used its pages to publish an anthology of modern art and literature called A könyve új müvészek [The Book of New Artists]. He then began to work on his kinetic sculpture project Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Bühne or Licht-Raum-Modulator [Space-Light Modulator], which produced abstract shadows. His exhibition allowed him to meet Walter Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus in Weimar. In 1923 Moholy-Nagy became a teacher there, replacing Johannes Itten as head of the foundation course and the metal workshop. A tireless experimenter – carrying out research in photography, cinema, posters, design, scenography, typography or new materials such as aluminium, celluloid, plastics, and spray gun painting, among other things - until 1928 he contributed a great deal to this “Institute of Arts and Crafts” in Weimar and later in Dessau. His research was accompanied by the publishing of fourteen remarkable books, the Bauhausbücher. After staging many exhibitions at the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin, he had a solo exhibition at the Kunstsalon Fides in Dresden and began to take part in exhibitions focusing on abstract art and applied arts in Europe and the United States (in 1932 he was in touch with the Abstraction-Création group in Paris and in 1936 his works formed part of the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art at the MoMA in New York). Being opposed to excessive specialisation in education, he abandoned the Bauhaus in 1928 and settled in Berlin where, as an independent artist and designer, he worked mostly with textiles, photography and cinema. His Space-Light Modulator was finally presented there in 1930. Fleeing from the Nazis, who closed down the Bauhaus in 1933, he settled in Amsterdam in 1934 where he publicised and organised exhibitions. In 1935 he moved to London where a retrospective was dedicated to the artist at the London Gallery in 1937. Following the suggestion of his friend Walter Gropius, that same year László Moholy-Nagy became head of the Design School in Chicago. Calling it the ‘New Bauhaus – American School of Design', he conceived it along the same lines as the Bauhaus in Dessau but with a more important department of photography. At the same time, his work was included in the exhibition of ‘degenerate art’ organised by the Nazis in Munich. However, with the New Bauhaus closing the following year, in 1939, he decided to open his own school, The School of Design (which became The Institute of Design in 1944), also in Chicago. In 1941 in New York, an exhibition entitled Art of Tomorrow was dedicated to his works at the Museum of Non-Objective Art, which would become the Guggenheim Museum. Following his death, a retrospective initially organised at this museum was shown for two years across the United States. Despite his premature death at the age of fifty-one, Moholy-Nagy left important work in all fields. According to him, art could not be dissociated from everyday life and education. Thanks to his writings and teachings, his influence was considerable throughout the post-war years. AC