László Moholy-Nagy was born in Hungary in 1895 and he initially studied law before serving in the army during World War I. He was discharged in 1918 after being wounded and by 1920 he had settled in Berlin, gaining a reputation as an innovative artist and a perceptive theorist. His reputation preceded him, at Walter Gropius’ invitation he taught at the Bauhaus School of Art and Design in Weimar and Dessau from 1923 to 1928. His approach, embracing new technologies and modern materials – alongside his utopian optimism for the future of design and society – came to define the Bauhaus ethos. However, the rise of Nazism forced Moholy-Nagy to leave Germany, first for Amsterdam and then to London where his family joined him. In 1937 he moved to the United States, founding The School of Design in Chicago in 1939 in the Bauhaus model.
Photography played a pivotal role in Moholy-Magy’s practice and he once remarked ‘a knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of the camera and pen alike.’ He explored the formal possibilities of the medium and was a pioneer of the cameraless photography for which he used the term ‘photogram’. A teacher, theorist, stage designer and artist, Moholy-Nagy believed in the power of art as a means of education. For him ‘art sharpens one’s senses, one’s view, one’s mind and one’s observations.’ Hattula Moholy-Nagy, the artist’s daughter, explains, ‘He felt that artists had a role to play in bettering society, making things better, making life better for people, that good art would lead to a good life.’ He is seen as a proto-conceptualist, whose work interrogated the role of the art object and the artist in society.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Scandinavia, 1930
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Lucia, 1924-28
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, From the Radio Tower, Berlin, 1928
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Siesta, 1926
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Special effect for Things to Come
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, photogram, 1943
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, photogram, 1926