Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

By Shatoya White

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was one of the founding fathers of Constructivism. He developed many innovating ways to take a photograph.  Although the major proponents of Constructivism in Germany- Theo van Doesburg, El Lissitzky, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy- wanted to create an abstract art that would signify new objective values, they, and others who joined the constructivist project in its peak years of 1922-23, disagreed on what those values should be (Fosnot, 1996). It was, in fact, the differing expectations of Constructivist art and the way artists sought to articulate them that are central to an understanding of German Constructivism.  Moholy-Nagy excelled in areas such as photography, typography, sculpture, painting, printmaking, and industrial design. He was born Laszlo Weisz in Bacsborsod, he changed his German-Jewish surname to his mother’s lawyers friends Magyar surname to Nagy. He helped the family after Laszlo’s real father left the family. (Margolin, 1997)

Later in his live Moholy-Nagy moved plenty of times. After becoming an adult he joined the Austro-Hungarian army and during World War I he sustained a serious injury. Before being discharged from the army in October 1918, he attended the private art school- Hungarian Fauve founded by artist Robert Bereny. (Westphal, 1991) There he began to expand his already natural artistic abilities. Moholy-Nagy was known for incorporating industry and technology into his art, but his most known abilities consisted of manipulation of light and shadow. His most influential achievement “Lichtrequisit enier elektrischen Buehne” (Light Prop for an electric stage) made for the German Werkbund exhibition.  His innovation of light and shape created a new way artists looked upon light imagery. He exhibited some of his first works in Szeged, and then moved to Vienna in Nov 1919 and finally to Berlin in 1920 (Moholy-Nagy, 1969). Sometimes in 1919 Moholy-Nagy made the important shift from figurative painting to works that combined lines and geometric shapes with iconic elements letters, and numbers. In his paintings and drawings of late 1919 and 1920, technology was the primary subject. Perpe was one of the first pictures to manifest the simplicity and geometric construction that would characterize his nonobjective works. (Dunyan, 2005)

Once moving to Berlin, he met Walter Gropius who was the founder of one of the most prestigious art institutes of its day.  The Bauhaus in Weimar which literally meant Build House, they built works of art and built artists. The popular ideology of the school was to have a sense of community pride. After the War the people began to unify looking for new ways to inspire each other, and that is exactly what influenced the Bauhaus to create a sense of family amongst the students and teachers. Moholy-Nagy helped this ideology by allowing his students to use everyday objects to create masterpieces.  He was hired to replace Johannes Itten as the instructor of the foundations course. These foundations courses included learning the lines, shapes, colors, and materials. The basics of art were taught first to all students. He taught painting, sculpture, photography, photomontage, and metal.

When Moholy-Nagy began, the school embarked on its move from expressionism into a more industrial school of design. They began to use everyday objects in a mix of their modern technology. He created a unique idea “the new vision”- new way of looking at the world; taking on a view that was not the   common “belly button” style.  He said, “We, who today have become one with the necessity and condition of class struggle in all respects, do not think it important that a person should find enjoyment in a picture, in music, or in poetry. A primary requirement is that those who have not yet reached the contemporary standard of mankind should be enabled to do so as soon as possible through our work.” (Wingler, 1969)They wanted to allow people to see a likeness in their world and the art. His ability to turn ordinary objects into beautiful contrasts of light and dark shadows put him above other artists in his field. He experimented with exposing photographic light sensitive paper with objects over it, called photogram. He also was famous for creating images that appeared at angles that were not common in photography. Like in his photo ofLa Canebière Street, Marseilles – View Through the Balcony Grille, 1928. (Dunyan, 2005) The angle of the photo was taken through  the grille that created a sense of contrast never before seen.

However, after the Nazis Party over took Germany in 1933, Moholy- Nagy was no longer allowed to work in Germany because he was a foreigner. He then moved to London in 1935. He went with long term associate Walter Gropius. He lived with Gropius in England for eight months. They searched for work throughout London. Moholy-Nagy survived by getting odd jobs at both Imperial Airways and Architectural Review. He also was a photographer for male underwear advertisements. Gropius and Moholy-Nagy were both trying to get the funding for another Bauhaus in London, but were unsuccessful. (Wingler, 1969)

After a struggle in London Moholy-Nagy was asked by Walter Paepcke, who was the chairman of the Container Corporation of America, to move to Chicago to become director of the New Bauhaus. His leadership skills and new ideas of ways to create art made him perfect for the job. The school lost its backing after one year and closed in 1938. Fortunately, he was also the Art Advisor for the mail-order house of Spiegel in Chicago. (Wingler, 1969) Only a short year later in 1939 Moholy-Nagy opened a school of design in 1939 which changed its name in 1944 to the Institute of Design.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was one of the most influential artists of his time. His light and space manipulation and work out reached the ability of his peers. Through-out his life he was the face of Constructivism, and strived to continue the tradition of innovation and creativity. After six years in America in 1946 Moholy-Nagy died of leukemia in Chicago. In his name the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest was built and still exists today. Most of his works are on display in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (Westphal, 1991)



Works Cited

Dunyan, M. (2005, March). Art Blart. Retrieved April 23, 2012, from

Fosnot, C. T. (1996). Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Itten, J. (1964). Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus. New York: Reinhold Publications.

Margolin, V. (1997). The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, 1917-1964. London: University of Chicago Press.

Moholy-Nagy, S. (1969). Moholy-Nagy: Experiment in Totality. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Westphal, U. (1991). The Bauhaus. New York: Gallery Books.

Wingler, H. M. (1969). The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago. Cambridge: MIT Press.

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