László Moholy-Nagy (center) among fellow companions from the Bauhaus School.
Each week we pay homage to a select "Original Creator"—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today's creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: László Moholy-Nagy.
Photographer/painter/illustrator/sculptor László Moholy-Nagy broke new ground by advocating that industrial technology should be used in the arts. Technology's blistering evolution in the late 1800s and early 1900s was the main motivation influencing the studies and creations of this Hungarian artist. Born in 1895, Moholy-Nagy spent part of his youth dedicated to drawing and painting, but it was after World War I that his artistic eclecticism sprung up.
In Germany, he was in touch with some of the last century's most relevant visual art movements, such as Futurism, Dadaism, and Russian Constructivism, which inspired his work. Later, these influences paved the way for his new experiments.
Russian Constructivism, Moholy-Nagy's primary leaning, was a political and artistic movement influenced by the 19th century's industrial revolution. Among its main principals was the belief that art should use industrial machinery to serve the construction of a new socialist world. This movement's main aesthetic characteristics are the use of primary colors, geometric elements, and photomontage. This last technique especially stood out in Moholy-Nagy's work.
László Moholy-Nagy, Untitled (Multiple Portrait), 1927, Collection Folkwang Museum, Essen.
With the idea of changing the structures of society through art, Constructivism suggested that artists should incorporate machinery, architectural engineering, and the power of image into their works. Moholy-Nagy coined the expression "the New Vision" in photography, stating that the technique could capture the outside world in a way that the human eye could not. He further explored this theory in his 1938 book The New Vision, from Material to Architecture.
Excerpt from 1938 book The New Vision, from Material to Architecture.
In 1923, he joined the German school of design and architecture known as Bauhaus, which translates to "house of construction," and shares principles with Constructivism. Bauhaus was a pioneering school in plastic arts, design, and architecture credited with inventing what we now know as industrial design, and it was where Moholy-Nagy not only learned, but also taught.
His became involved in Bauhaus at a time when the school abandoned expressionistic inclinations and adopted an approach integrating technology and design. Throughout his career, Moholy-Nagy innovated techniques in fields such as photography, typography, sculpture, printing, and industrial design.
Photogram, 1939. Eastman House Museum of Photography & Film, Rochester, New York.
Laboratory, 1938. Eastman House Museum of Photography & Film, Rochester, New York.
One of Moholy-Nagy's most important accomplishments was the invention of the "Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Buehne" [light prop for an electric stage], built with moving parts arranged to have light projected through them, creating light reflections and shadows on nearby surfaces. The installation/invention was completed in 1930 and is considered one of the first kinetic sculptures ever built. Check out the light machine operating below in a scene from a movie directed by the artist himself.
In 1937, Moholy-Nagy was invited by Walter Paeckpe to open the New Bauhaus school in Chicago. The school operated for just one year and was shut down due to a lack of funding, but Paeckpe stuck with Moholy-Nagy, who in 1939 established the School of Design, renamed the Institute of Design in 1944, one of the world's most important design education institutions. Moholy-Nagy passed away in Chicago in 1946.