The “Future Present” Exhibit of Artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy Arrives in Los Angeles

Artwork: László Moholy-Nagy, Room of the Present, Constructed 2009 from plans and other documentation, dated 1930, Mixed media, inner dimensions: 137 3/4 x 218 7/8 x 318 3/4 in., Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2953,  photography by Peter Cox, Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

“Designing is not a profession but an attitude,’ László Moholy-Nagy asserted in his 1947 book Vision in Motion, which was published a year after his death, with the cool self-assurance that came from a life dedicated to the integration of technology and the arts.

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Born in Hungary in 1895, Moholy-Nagy moved to Vienna in 1919, then Berlin the following year. In 1923 he began teaching at the Bauhaus, a celebrated German art school that became famous for utilizing design as the bridge between crafts and fine art. The school’s influence was so strong it became a style in its own right, influencing Modern design, architecture, and art.

László Moholy-Nagy, Red Cross and White Balls, 1921, collage, ink, graphite, and watercolor on paper, 8 7/16 × 11 7⁄16 in., Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, K 1956-11, © 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo © Museum Kunstpalast – Horst Kolberg – ARTOTHEK

It was here that Moholy-Nagy perfected his utopian philosophy, whereby he believed that technology could be used for the betterment of humanity. He put his ideas into practice through the creation of art, working in media as diverse as painting, photography, film, sculpture, advertising, product design, and theater sets. Believing that “The experience of space is not a privilege of the gifted few, but a biological function,” Moholy-Nagy set forth to create art that obeyed not only aesthetic principles, but utilitarian ones as well.

In celebration, Future Present, the first comprehensive retrospective of Moholy-Nagy’s work in the United States in nearly 50 years, brings together approximately 300 works in all media that survey the artist’s historic career. Drawn from public and private collections, the exhibition includes the large-scale installation, Room of the Present, originally conceived by Moholy-Nagy in 1930. Organized by the Art Institute of Chicago; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles the exhibition is currently on view at Los Angeles County Museum of Art through June 18, 2017.

László Moholy-Nagy, Cover and design for Malerei Photographie Film (Painting Photography Film), 1st ed., Bauhausbücher (Bauhaus Books) 8 (Albert Langen Verlag, 1925), Bound volume, 9 1/16 × 7 1/16 in., collection of Richard S. Frary.

The LACMA exhibition, designed by Los Angeles-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee, reflects the dynamism of Moholy’s work, with a diagonal visual “cut” through the entire exhibition space. The installation also pays homage to Moholy’s vocabulary in Germany with black line running along the floorboards and around doorways, as well as his later years in Chicago, with organically shaped plinths and pedestals for the later sculptures.

Future Present is right on time, reminding us of the power of the avant-garde to see the state of the world far beyond their death. Coming of age as abstraction came into vogue, Moholy-Nagy was a disciple of the Industrial Age in which he lived. Insisting that art must be made from the materials contemporary to one’s period. As an artist working in the first half of the twentieth century, Moholy-Nagy employed case recorded sound, photography, film, and synthetic plastics to speak to the people in the language with which they were most familiar.

László Moholy-Nagy, Once a Chicken, Always a Chicken, 1925, photomontage (halftone reproductions, paper, watercolor, and grapite) on paper, 15 × 19 in., Alice Adam, Chicago

In essence, Moholy-Nagy was a populist, firmly embracing the ability of art to serve the people and vice versa. He held to the belief that all people possessed the ability to create, and that simply by participating with the formal properties of the materials of modern life, people had the means to self-educate. After all, people had already begun to use the camera for personal use, documenting their public and private lives. They were also regular consumers of movies and music, catapulting entertainment to one of the most profitable industries in the world.

Ultimately, Moholy-Nagy was an optimist who believed in the power of the mind to manifest the needs of the people in material form. Now, 70 years after his death, we can see how right he was by virtue of how far these arts have come in popular culture as well as in commercial and fine arts. In many ways, Moholy-Nagy was a fortuneteller whose gift was to read the present and the future it foretold.

László Moholy-Nagy, Photograph (Self-Portrait with Hand), 1925/29, printed 1940/49, gelatin silver print, 9 5/16 × 7 in., Galerie Berinson, Berlin

Originally published December 17, 2016.

Updated February 14, 2017, with new information on the exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of art, along with new images from the show.

All artwork:  © 2017 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonnts Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.

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