Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - Yellow Circle (detail), 1921, photo via thecharnelhouse.org

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy/ László Moholy-Nagy

Hungary 1895 - 1946

Constructivism

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
László Moholy-Nagy
Male
Hungary
1895

The most inventive and engaging of all the Bauhaus artists, László Moholy-Nagy adhered to his dictum that everybody has a talent. He is known for his theories of art focusing his teaching practice on developing students’ natural gifts instead of making them learn specialized skills. The Bauhaus itself supported his ideas abolishing training in favor of incitement of individuality. As an artist, Moholy-Nagy was a painter, sculptor, photographer, industrial designer and film-maker. Working predominantly with light, he experimented with photograms – images made without the camera by arranging the objects directly on the light-sensitive paper and then exposing it to light, and with oil paintings by making them on transparent or polished surfaces with an intervention of mobile light effects.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - Untitled, 1935 lászló new design chicago painter hungarian photographer work technology artist
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – Untitled, 1935

László Moholy-Nagy’s Artistic Beginnings

Moholy-Nagy was born in 1895 in a small village Bácsborsód in Hungary. After his father left the family, he moved to Ada, Serbia with his mother and brothers and his uncle who lived in the nearby town of Moholy became his guardian. His first ambition was to became a writer, but at the urging of his uncle, he enrolled in law in Budapest. The World War I interrupted his studies and Moholy-Nagy had to join the army. Spending many hours in artillery observation post, he made hundreds of sketches on the back of military-issue postcards. After being wounded, he had a long recovery in Budapest. During these days, he was for the first time reconsidered the artistic career. Encouraged by Ivan Hevesy, art critic and a close friend, he attended classes at art school and showed his works in exhibitions. As Moholy-Nagy himself admitted, he had not understood Cubism, Fauvism or Futurism, so his first pieces were figurative, in a manner of Expressionism.

His first paintings were figurative, in a manner of Expressionism

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - Unsere Grossen, 1927 new design chicago painter hungarian photographer work technology artist
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – Unsere Grossen, 1927

The Crucial Discovery of Russian Constructivism

Studying Rembrandt and Van Gogh, he was fascinated by the power of lines. Gradually discovering composition and colors, he started to produce collages of juxtaposed colored paper strips, transferring these arrangements into the paintings. By 1919, he was drawn by Dadaist experiments, beginning to explore the photography. After the war, he moved to Szeged and then Vienna where joined the MA (Today), the group of Hungarian avant-garde artists in exile. In 1920, he decided to go to Berlin which influenced that his art becomes abstract. In a touch with Russian Constructivism, especially the work of El Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy completely found himself in their utopian social philosophy. Striving to avoid everything personal from his paintings, he even gave his works the alpha-numeric titles.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - FGM.217 Untitled, Dessau 1927 new design chicago painter hungarian photographer work new technology artist
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – FGM.217 Untitled, Dessau 1927

The Teaching Position at Bauhaus

Of the crucial importance for his further career was the exhibition at the, for that time, important gallery Der Sturm, held in 1922, where Walter Gropius noticed him and proposed the teaching position at Bauhaus in Weimar. The next five years in the school which gained an international fame brought him the opportunity to meet artists, art historians, art dealers, curators and all prominent people of the avant-garde world. His artistic style was constantly changing and, besides canvases, he started to use aluminum and opaque plastics for his paintings. Experimenting with photography, he created photomontages from incorporated drawings, photograms and photographs. In 1928, after Gropius resigned his director position at Bauhaus, Moholy-Nagy returned to Berlin. In this period, he created several short films in 16 mm format.

He was a teacher at Bauhaus for a five years

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - Dual form with Chromium, 1946 new
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – Dual form with Chromium, 1946

From Europe to America

Fleeing from Nazi Germany, in 1934, he went first to Amsterdam, then London, and three years later permanently settled in Chicago. Here is where he founded the New Bauhaus, later known as Institute of Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology, which was the first American school that was based on the Bauhaus program. Besides organization of the school activities, he actively painted, photographing, teaching and publishing. The novelty was also the sculptural works, stationary or mobile, made of Plexiglas or curved polished metal rods. In 1945, László Moholy-Nagy was diagnosed with leukemia and, despite the treatments, he passed away the next year, at the age of 51. His last book Vision in Motion revealed his educational philosophy and principles of the Bauhaus concept and remained the manual and main literature of the Institute of Design.

Featured image: László Moholy-Nagy – Yellow Circle (detail), 1921, photo via thecharnelhouse.org
All images © The Moholy-Nagy Foundation

YearExhibition titleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Moholy-Nagy, Future-PresentGuggenheim Museum, New YorkSolo
2015The paintings of Moholy-NagyMuseum of Art, Santa BarbaraSolo
2014Lens Based SculptureAkademier Kunste, BerlinGroup
2013View from aboveCentre Pompidou Metz, ParisGroup
2012The birth of photographyMuseum of fine arts, BudapestGroup
2011Moholy-Nagy in motionThe museum of modern art, japanSolo
2010Moholy-Nagy, the art of lightCirculodes Bellas Artes, MadridSolo
2000Moholy-NagyUbu Gallry, New YorkSolo
1990Bauhaus PhotographyArnolfini Gallery, BristolGroup
1980The eight and the activistsEnte Premi RomaGroup
1979Art as UtopiaLe HavreGroup
1978Utopia and ApocalypseFisher Fine Aer, LondonGroup
1977Moholy-NagyGalerie Klihm MunichSolo
1975The Golden door, artists imigrants of AmericaHirshorn museum, WashingtonGroup
1975Art in HungaryKunstmuseum LucerneGroup
1974Moholy-NagyContemporary arts museum, HustonSolo
1973Kunst in DeutschlandHamburger KunsthalleGroup
1972Geometric AbstractionDallas Museum of Fine ArtsGroup
1971Fotograme Moholy-Nagygalerie Rudolf Zwirner, CologneSolo
1970Foto Moholy-NagyGalerie Klihm, MunichSolo
1969Die Fotomontage Stadt und Kunstverein, IngostadtGroup
1968Moholy-NagyMarlborough Gallery, LondonSolo
1967Moholy-NagyEindhovenSolo
1966Moholy-NagyKunst Kabinet Klihm, MunichSolo
1965KunstLichKunstEindhovenGroup
1962Geometric Abstraction in AmericaWhitney Museum of American Art, New YorkGroup
1961Moholy-NagyDuesseldorfSolo
1960Group showKunst Kabinet Klihm, MunichGroup
1959Moholy-NagyKunst Kabinet, MunichSolo
1957Moholy-NagyKleeman Galleries, New YorkSolo
1956Moholy-NagyKunst Kabinet, MunichSolo
1955Moholy-NagyLimelight Gallery, New YorkSolo
1954Six Artists teachers in AmericaMoMA, New YorkGroup
1953Moholy-NagyKunsthaus, ZurichSolo
1952Moholy-NagyGalerie Arnaud, ParisSolo
1950Moholy-NagyFogg Art MuseumSolo
1949Moholy-NagyHustonSolo
1947Moholy-NagyBradley UniversitySolo
1946Moholy-NagyCincinnati Modern Art SocietySolo
1941Anual ExhibitionChicagoGroup
1940Moholy-NagyKatharine Kuh Gallery, ChicagoSolo
1938Paintings, Photographs, SculptureFine Arts society of JacksonvilleSolo
1937Entartete kunstMunichGroup
1936Cubism and Abstract artMoMA, New YorkGroup
1934International exhibition of photographyGeorge Walter Vincent Smith Art Gallery, SpringfieldGroup
1932SurrealismeJulien Levy GalleryGroup
1931Fotomontage Staatliche MuseenBerlinGroup
1930Section AllemadeGrande Palais, ParisGroup
1929Moholy-NagyGalerie Goltz, MunichSolo
1928Photography, Painting, ArchitecturePrivatkunstschule, BerlinGroup
1927Art ExhibitionBerlinGroup
1926Neue Kunst FidesDresden Group
1925UnknownDer Sturm, BerlinGroup
1924UnknownDer Sturm, BerlinGroup
1923UnknownDer Sturm, BerlinDuo
1922UnknownDer Sturm, BerlinGroup
1920UnknownBerlinGroup
1919Veteran Artists ExhibitionBudapestGroup
1918Winter Exhibition Nemzeti Szalon, BudapestGroup