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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

The Light Space Modulator, 1930, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
The one type of artist we are most likely to take for granted is the designer. Only in rare cases is their name attached to their work, and only then when their "line" has gained such a level of popular appeal that it has moved from the realm of "art" into that of pop culture. Thomas Chippendale is one of the earliest of these, Christian Dior is another, along with Buckminster Fuller, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Pucci, and Versace. Even at that, as you can see by the small sampling above, the list is heavily weighted in favor of fashion designers. Be that as it may, designers are probably the most important artists working today. They touch virtually everything we touch long before we touch it. They are the ones who decide what things look like and then very often are called upon to entice us into buying that which they've designed.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy Self-portrait, 1944,
part of his early experimentation with color transparencies.
A good designer must be a sort of jack-of-all-trades where art is concerned, with impeccable aesthetic tastes coupled with an astute sense of the possible versus the "forget about it." Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was one such man, a photographer, a painter, a writer, a teacher, a sculptor, set designer, printmaker, lighting designer, industrial designer, architect, interior designer...there was little he didn't try his hand at and little at which he did not excel. Laszlo was born Laszlo Weisz in Bácsborsód, (southern) Hungary, in 1895. Though born Jewish, he rejected Judaism for Calvinism at a time in Europe when it was prudent to do so. It was then he adopted the name of his hometown (Mohol) hyphenated with that of his mother's Christian lawyer. Sandwiched into his study of law, he served in the Austro-Hungarian army during WW I.
Nuclear II, 1946, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy,
art imitating physics.
After the war, while still studying law, Moholy-Nagy attended a private art school where he was exposed to German Expressionism and Communist political activities, though he had no part in the so-called "Red Terror" government. After the defeat of the Hungarian Communist Regime in 1919, Moholy continued his study of art in Szeged, Hungary, where he first exhibited his work before moving on to Vienna and in 1920 to Berlin. In 1923, at the age of 28, Moholy-Nagy got a job teaching the basics course at the famous Bauhaus school in Weimar (later in Dessau) where he was instrumental in moving the curriculum away from Expressionism toward industrial design arts and crafts. It was while teaching at the Bauhaus he absorbed a broad scope of technical knowledge. What he learned there, he later taught there, becoming one of the school's strongest influences beside Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Hannes Meyer.
An untitled Moholy-Nagy Photogram, 1923-25
It was while at the Bauhaus that Moholy-Nagy "invented" his famous "photograms" made by laying various objects on photo paper then exposing the paper. His photography tended toward much the same emphasis on patterns and shadows. Later he moved on to building abstract kinetic sculptures (top and at bottom) coupled with lights to cast moving shadows, all of which he photographed, thus creating a chain of media associated with a single work of art. Moholy-Nagy left the Bauhaus in 1928 to work in Berlin until the Nazis came to power in 1933, whereupon he very wisely decamped for Holland followed by London where he worked as a photographer and graphic designer. He even worked as a special effects designer for the futuristic Hungarian motion picture, H.G. Wells' Things to Come, being shot there at the time.
Stage set, Tales of Hoffman, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
In 1937, Moholy-Nagy came to the United States to join an effort to transplant the Bauhaus School to more friendly soil in Chicago. The effort failed after only one year. Moholy-Nagy went to work for the mail-order house of Spiegel as their art advisor before joining other Bauhaus alumni in founding The Institute of Design, which later became a part of The Illinois Institute of Technology. He died of leukemia in 1946. However, his native Hungary did not forget its most famous designer. They honored him by naming their Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest after him.

A demonstration of a Moholy-Nagy light-space sculpture.


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