László Moholy-Nagy

ICONOFGRAPHICS

Hungary, 1895 - 1946

"He was certainly a leftist, but not in an absolute political sense. Also later, when he thought it was possible to transform society through modern technology and culture, in fact, he was a rather an utopian than a proponent of political realism. He was more gifted for creation than for destruction."
- Krisztina Passuth

Krisztina Passuth in "Debut of László Moholy-Nagy"

Portrait of László Moholy-Nagy
Lucia Moholy-Nagy
1926

László Moholy-Nagy was born László Weisz July 20, 1895 at Bďż˝csborsďż˝d, Hungary. He changed his German-Jewish surname to the surname of his mothers friend, Nagy. The Hungarian name Moholy refers to his region of origin, Mohol. His father abandoned the family when he was young, and his mother took László and his younger brother to live with their grandmother. He left for Budapest in 1913 to study law.

Selfportrait
László Moholy-Nagy
1917

Round Table
László Moholy-Nagy
1919

In the war of 1914, he joined the Austro-Hungarian Army as an artillery officer. Wounded, he was taken to the military hospital. During his recovery he drew his first sketches. Regardless of the quality, it is clear that he focused on the line as a fundamental pictorial element.

After his return to Budapest in 1918, he completed the law study he began before the war, but he was really looking forward to becoming a painter.

The political and cultural situation in Budapest offered young Hungarian intellectuals a host of new ideas. At that time - and not without internal debate Moholy-Nagy decided to abandon his bourgeois career to devote himself entirely to painting.*

* from `László Moholy-Nagy´, Centre d‘Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, 1976

The turbulent events of the end of the 1910’s led many european artists to orientate their efforts towards constructing a new and better society. Though visual language of earlier avant-garde movements was reworked, They moved away from futurist extremism and dada raillery. “Art for art’s sake” was thrown overboard, artists wanted their art to be useful. *

After the collapse of the Hungarian Communist Republic in august 1919, Moholy-Nagy left for Vienna in Germany, which became the rallying point for many young Hungarians belonging to the left-wing intelligentsia.

Find more information on Hungary in the interwar period.

During this period he shifted from figurative painting to works that combined lines and geometric shapes with iconographic elements. A gouache entitled 'perpe' dated 1919 was one of the first characteristic pictures of his nonobjective works, a construction of industrial images and letter shapes.*

He soon left Vienna and went to Berlin, the growing center of international avant-garde. Shortly after the war, Germany had become fertile ground for expressionism, Dada and other avant-garde movements. Several foreign avant-garde figures, such as Kasimir Malevich, El lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko and Theo Van Doesburg, were attracted to this city.

Although Germany had lost WWI, it was nonetheless a country of advanced science and technology. Berlin in the 20’s was he largest industrial city in Germany and the center of an intense mixing of art forms, stimulated by a climate of political tension.

Originating from Eastern Europe, Moholy-Nagy was particularly attracted to art by Malevich and El Lissitsky. He examined the works by Rodchenko, Tatlin and Kandinsky in detail and learned about the cultural aspects of the Russian Revolution. These ideas would determine his future work. His own style would be influenced by Suprematism, Russian Constructivism and Dada, but only in its form.

If in other hands Dadaism might have been a critical tool against morality and society. Moholy-Nagy celebrated the countless resources of form and movement, the possibilities of the big city and modern technology.*

* László Moholy-Nagy, centre d'art et de culture georges pompidou, 1976

A 19
László Moholy-Nagy
1927
830x990 mm

Composition Z VIII
László Moholy-Nagy
1924
114x132 cm

From 1921 onwards he created paintings which were stripped of references. He explored color, space, light and transparency. Art became “something pure, liberated from usefulness and beauty, something elemental which can arise in each person.”*

* Quoting Raoul Haussman, Hans Arp, Iwan Puni and Moholy-Nagy “Aufruf zur elementaren kunst” De Stijl 4, n°10, 1921, translation by Victor Margolin

Bauhaus Balconies
László Moholy-Nagy
1926

Funkturm (radio tower) Berlin
László Moholy-Nagy
1926

Due to the acquaintance with Lucia Schultz, a talented photographer whom he married in 1922, he discovered photography as a new artistic medium. His experiments with the camera lead to photo-collage, playing with unseen birds-eye views, diagonal perspectives and unusual cropping. He experimented with the photographic process of exposing light sensitive paper, creating photograms.

Leda and the Swan
László Moholy-Nagy
1946

Photogram IV
László Moholy-Nagy
1922

In 1922 his success as a painter secured him an exhibition in gallery Der Sturm in Berlin, quickly followed by Hanover, Dresden, Halle, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Frankfurt.
In the same year he took part in the constructivist-Dadaist-congress in Weimar. There he met Walter Gropius, architect and founder of the Bauhaus.

BAUHAUS

In 1923, Moholy-Nagy was asked by Walter Gropius to teach at the Weimar Bauhaus, an influential school of architecture and industrial design, where he was given control of the preliminary course.

Views of New Bauhaus Buildings
Lucia Moholy-Nagy
1925

Stundenplan fur Vorlehre
source unknown

The Bauhaus, founded in 1919, was close to expressionism and handicraft. In 1923, upon the arrival of Moholy-Nagy, it redefined itself as a meeting-place for the arts and the industry. With Moholy-Nagy entered his passion for the avant-garde, his interest in typographical material, his knowledge of constructivism and an exceptional talent for photography and photomontage.*

Pneumatik
László Moholy-Nagy
Drawing and collage on paper
1926

cover of the revue foto-QUALITAT
attributed to
László Moholy-Nagy
1931

His concept of typo-photo, by which he meant any synthesis between typography and photography, was the beginning of what has become the central medium of graphic design.

"What is typophoto? Typography is communication composed in type. Photography is the visual presentation of what can be optically apprehended. Typophoto is the visually most exact rendering of communication."

Letterhead for Bauhaus Publishing
László Moholy-Nagy
1923

logo for Bauhaus Publishing
attributed to
László Moholy-Nagy
date unknown

He participated actively in the school’s external image, designing the visual identity for the school’s publishing house in which he combined a circle, a square and a triangle, fundamental geometric shapes in Bauhaus design.

Bauhausbucher 11
Die Gegenstandslose Welt
Kasimir Malewitsch
attributed to
László Moholy-Nagy
1927

Bauhausbucher 1
attributed to
Farkas Molnar.
1924

BauhausbĂĽcher 5
Neue Gestaltung
Piet Mondriaan
attributed to
László Moholy-Nagy
1924

In collaboration with Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy developed and published the series of 14 ‘Bauhausbücher’ (Bauhaus Books) that acted as the manifest of the school.

Moholy-Nagy, along with Tschichold and Schwitters, attempted to articulate the 'New Typography'. In 1923 he published an article in which he defended the notion that "typography is an instrument of communication and must be as clear and effective as possible."*

* extract from "die neue typographie" by László Moholy-Nagy in "staatliches bauhaus weimer"

The ideas of New Typography included asymmetrical composition, sans serif type, preference of the lowercase, the use of photography, grids, geometrical forms and the absense of decoration.

These functional demands did not lead him to a dogmatic position. He used variable typefaces, in several weights, all possible colours and with no limits in the arrangements of lines.

classes in Bauhaus
source unknown
1919-1933

In 1925, the school moved to Dessau, the only major city in Germany which still had a left-wing government.

Moholy taught at the Bauhaus from 1923 to 1928. These were the most productive years of his career.

AFTER THE BAUHAUS

Along with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, he resigned from his teaching position at the Bauhaus school in 1928 due to political pressure and went to Berlin where he worked as a freelance designer. In 1932, he and Lucia separated, and he married his second wife, Sibyl, whom he had met at a film production studio.

From 1935 onwards he lived in London, untill in july 1937 he emigrated to Chicago to direct a new design school based on the Bauhaus model; “The New Bauhaus: American School of Design”

The German Bauhaus was known as a school where new forms for industry were invented and thus it fit within a perception of cultural modernity that emerged in the United States by the late 1920’s.*

selfportrait
source and date unknown

Moholy-Nagy’s leadership of this school insured a favorable public image. He was internationally recognized as one of the major proponents of Constructivism.
Being in charge of this school, he had to work with a group of capitalist businessmen, whose values did not fully accord with his own. While art educators celebrated the school for its creativity, corporate executives were embittered because the school showed few results. This school closed after only a year because the association withdrew its suport.

Moholy-Nagy himself decided to start a second school “The School of Design”, which survived until 1944 and was then renamed the “Institute of Design”.

Few of the students that passed his classes became actual industrial designers, influenced by Moholy-Nagy’s ambiguous feelings about capitalist industry.

Moholy-Nagy became seriously ill and was diagnosed with leukemia in November 1945. Despite X-ray treatment, he died in 1946.