László Moholy-Nagy is one of the greatest influencers on post-war art education and design, and one of the protagonists of the Bauhaus era.
His pioneering work in painting, drawing, photography, typography, collage, printmaking, sculpture, metalworking, film, theatre, and writing makes him notorious for being the most relentlessly experimental figure throughout the history of the Bauhaus school.
About his life
Moholy-Nagy was born on 20 July 1895 in Bácsborsód, Hungary to a Jewish family. He left for Budapest in 1913 to study law only to be enlisted into the Austro-Hungarian Army: experiencing the horrors of war-scarred him for life, but it was during this time that he discovered a passion for drawing and painting.
After his discharge from the military, he attended a private art school and then moved to Berlin, where he met Walter Gropius. In 1923, he was invited to teach at the Staatliches Bauhaus in Dessau where he took over the school’s preliminary course, giving it a more practical and technological bent. He left the Bauhaus as Marianne Brandt took over his role in 1928 and established his design studio.
Fleeing from Nazi Germany, he moved to Chicago in 1937 where he opened the first American school based on the Bauhaus principals, later known as the Institute of Design in Chicago. He continued to work until he died of leukemia on 24 November 1946.
Identity and key concepts
Moholy-Nagy’s belief in the potential of new technologies was shaped by Dadaism and Constructivism, which both influenced 20th-century trends. He developed art education theories focused on developing students’ natural gifts. His dictum was: “Everybody is talented”.
He coined the term Neues Sehen (New Vision): a whole new way of seeing the outside world provided by the advent of the camera, which sparked Moholy-Nagy’s belief that artists had to learn to see again by modernizing their understanding of vision through experimentation.
Moholy-Nagy’s interest in qualities of space, time, and light endured throughout his career and transcended the very different media he employed. He was also the first interwar artist to suggest the use of scientific equipment in the making of art.
Examples of his works
Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography and Film – 1925)
The eighth volume in the series written by Moholy-Nagy himself is considered a showcase work of his pioneering achievements in typography and photographic editing.
Moholy-Nagy was captivated by light throughout his career: especially in this work, light is the very means of visual composition or as he called it “the medium of plastic expression”.
Light Prop for an Electric Stage (Light Space Modulator – 1930)
A large circular base supporting various moving components that sum up Moholy-Nagy’s Utopian vision for a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), that would transcend all media, reflecting the complexity of a living, biological form.