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László Moholy-Nagy

Artist Spotlight

As the 20th century brought rapid technological progress, many artists around the world embraced the potential of machine age tools to shape an innovative, modern style.

One such artist was László Moholy-Nagy (or Moholy, as he liked to be called), who believed that art and technology would work hand in hand in creating a better future.

Moholy, born in Hungary, started out as a painter before moving on to focus on photography. In the early 1920s, he produced many compositions focusing on shapes and color.

Embracing precision and replicability—ideals of the machine age—he used tools like a compass and a straightedge to remove his personal touch from his works. Following industrial naming practices of the time, he titled works with letters and numbers in series—thus “Q.”

László Moholy-Nagy, Q, 1922/1923, collage with watercolor and pen and black ink over graphite on cream paper attached to carbon paper, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1982.27.1

In 1922, Moholy met Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school of design based in Weimar, Germany. The Bauhaus aimed to unify art and design to create a new material world. The school trained students in both the fine arts and specialized skills such as carpentry and metalwork. At Gropius’s invitation, Moholy directed the metal workshop and taught courses at the Bauhaus from 1923 to 1928. 

In this 1928 photograph of the newly constructed Berlin Radio Tower, Moholy captured a landmark of technological progress from an unexpected angle.

With his wife Lucia Moholy, who was a trained photographer, Moholy-Nagy also experimented with creating “photograms.” He made them by placing objects on photographic paper and then exposing the arrangement to light, thus creating a photograph without the use of the camera.

László Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, c. 1922-1924, gelatin silver print, New Century Fund, 2006.130.1

Photograms were one expression of their wider interest in experimenting with photography as a medium, using a variety of methods to create a photograph.

After moving to the United States, Moholy founded the “new Bauhaus” school in Chicago in 1937. The school, where design principles were fundamental to all courses and media, went on to host faculty like composer John Cage and architect Buckminster Fuller. It continues to this day as the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology. 

Throughout his career as an artist and educator, Moholy unified arts, design, and technology in an effort to build a utopian world.

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Banner: László Moholy-Nagy, Selbstportrait mit Hand (Self-Portrait with Hand), 1925–1929, gelatin silver print, courtesy of the Moholy-Nagy Foundation