For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2004

László Moholy-Nagy: The Late Photographs

November 13, 2004–February 20, 2005

Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy-Nagy
Untitled
1937–1946
Kodachrome slide
Courtesy of Hattula Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy Nagy (1895–1946) was a Hungarian law student who studied art in Berlin after the First World War and by 1923 was teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar as its youngest professor. The Bauhaus, one of the most influential schools of architecture, design, and art during the twentieth century, was founded in 1919 in Weimar by architect Walter Gropius. It moved to Dessau in 1925 and then to Berlin, where it was closed by the Nazis in 1933. Moholy-Nagy immigrated to Amsterdam in 1934 and then to London (1935–37), finally settling in Chicago where he was the first director of the New Bauhaus, a design school established by The Association of Arts and Industry. The School closed due to financial difficulties the following year, and in 1939 Moholy-Nagy founded the School of Design, later renamed The Institute of Design. His greatest importance was as a teacher, writer, and experimenter, especially with new materials such as Plexiglas. He worked in a multitude of media, including painting, kinetic sculpture, photomontage, photography, photogram, film, and typography, across a number of movements, from Constructivism to Dadaism and Suprematism. He is perhaps best known for his black-and-white photographic work, including photograms and photo-collages, of the 1920s and early 1930s.

From 1937 until his death in 1946, Moholy-Nagy worked extensively with a Leica camera, producing a number of 35 mm Kodachrome slides, only a portion of which survive. These confident investigations in color are characteristic of the artist’s late career, but due to the limitations of technology for color printing, Moholy-Nagy was unhappy with the results and few were actually printed.

Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy-Nagy
Untitled
1937–1946
Kodachrome slide
Courtesy of Hattula Moholy-Nagy

The color photographs on view at UMMA, which were lent by Ann Arbor resident Hattula Moholy-Nagy, daughter of the artist, were made from slides her father took during his years in Chicago. The slides chosen for printing onto Fuji Crystal paper were selected by independent curator Olivier Renault-Clement. Photographer Liz Deschenes was commissioned by the Andrea Rosen Gallery to print these select images. The gallery held a show of these works in New York in October 2002, and they were shown in Paris at the Galerie de France in early 2003. From the 26 estate proofs, 18 have been selected for this presentation in the Works on Paper Gallery.

The photographs range from purely abstract traces of light, to portraits, to images of Moholy-Nagy’s own constructed sculptures made out of plastic, string, or colored gels. Some works look back to the artist’s seminal work in black-and-white photography, especially those depicting street scenes from odd or unusual angles. Others investigate the way light caresses or pierces Moholy-Nagy’s own constructions in new materials or represent playful, surrealistic statements in their own right. The works reveal Moholy-Nagy’s interest in light, as witnessed in his use of transparency, reflection, and distortion, and draw upon much of his previous work, synthesizing a variety of ideas.

At Moholy-Nagy’s funeral, Walter Gropius, founder of the Weimar Bauhaus, eulogized: “Constantly developing new ideas, he managed to keep himself in a stage of unbiased curiosity from where a fresh point of view could originate. With a shrewd sense of observation, he investigated everything that came his way, taking nothing for granted, but using his acute sense of the organic.” This late body of work underscores Moholy-Nagy’s continuing explorations, pushing himself into the new medium of color photography. This recently rediscovered body of work illuminates a new chapter in the artist’s creative output, allowing for a keener insight into his ongoing investigations.

Sean M. Ulmer
University Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art