László Moholy-Nagy counts as one of the most influential figures in photography from the 1920s to 1940s, the heyday of classic modernism. His name is most closely associated with the Bauhaus, where he taught from 1923 to 1928. Moholy played a fundamental role there in cultivating new technologies and furthering active engagement by artists with the modern world. His book Painting Photography Film, first published by the Bauhaus in 1925, single-handedly set the terms for an entire era in photographic history; the 1929 exhibition Film und Foto, organized principally by Moholy, encapsulated that era and gave it the broadest possible public visibility. A gifted professor and public speaker, Moholy led a transnational existence that began when he emigrated from his native Hungary in 1919. He worked as an exhibition designer, a typographer, and an art director for companies and publications in Berlin (1928–1933), Amsterdam (1934), and London (1935–1937), before landing in Chicago as director of the New Bauhaus, known from 1944 as the Institute of Design.
In 1928, Moholy took a series of perhaps eight views of the Berlin Radio Tower: just finished in 1926, it was one of the most exciting new constructions in the German capital. Moholy had already photographed the Eiffel Tower in Paris, looking up through the tower’s soaring girders. In Berlin, however, he turned his camera around and pointed it straight down at the ground. The plunging perspective he chose showed off the most spectacular achievement of the Berlin Radio Tower: While the Parisian tower needed a base of 1,300 square feet for stability, the Berlin Radio Tower was nearly seven times smaller at its base—making the view from its 450-foot peak especially vertiginous.
The Berlin Radio Tower series demonstrates better than any other work by Moholy the eye-opening potential of unexpected angles and progressive technologies that he called the New Vision. Moholy attached exceptional importance to this image, the boldest in the series. He hung it just above his name in the room devoted to his work at the Berlin showing of Film und Foto. In 1931, this image was reproduced in the leading art periodical Der Querschnitt. That same year, Moholy held his first one-person exhibition of photographs in New York, at the Julien Levy Gallery. A different view from the Berlin Radio Tower was one of several works purchased from this show by the Museum of Modern Art. Meanwhile, Moholy had sold another print of this exact image along with two further views of the same subject to Levy, whose collection of painting and photography passed into the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979.
on verso, lower right stamped in black ink: foto moholy-nagy
Esther Schub, Moscow; (Ubu Gallery, New York, 2002); NGA purchase, 2007.
- Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 2007 - 2008, no. 59.
- In Light of the Past: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Collecting Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 3 – July 26, 2015