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László Moholy-Nagy: Proto-Conceptual Artist

Coinciding with the Bauhaus centenary, Hattula Moholy-Nagy and Daniel Hug, the daughter and grandson of László Moholy-Nagy, consider the lasting impact of the artist’s work today. Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition in London dedicated to Moholy-Nagy examines his influence as a proto-conceptualist, whose work interrogated the role of the art object and the artist in society, anticipating questions posed by subsequent generations of artists.

Moholy-Nagy was born in Hungary in 1895 and embodied many lives—as a law student, soldier in World War I, teacher of Bauhaus and first and foremost as a pioneering artist. In his practice, he moved with versatility through different mediums and had an astute sensibility for the future of design. His oeuvre encompasses plastics, aluminum, film, painting, collage, drawing, kinetic sculpture—as Walter Gropius wrote, he was ‘entirely unprejudiced by conventional methods,’ and ‘ventured into ever new experiments with the curiosity of a scientist.’

‘Art sharpens one’s senses, one’s view, one’s mind and one’s observations.’

László Moholy-Nagy, Das Weltgebäude (The Edifice of the World), 1950s © the Estate of László Moholy-Nagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
MOHOL87503 - Framed
László Moholy-Nagy, CH Space 6, 1941 © the Estate of László Moholy-Nagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Another one of these forms was photography, which played a pivotal role in Moholy-Magy’s practice. He once remarked that ‘a knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of the camera and pen alike.’ Hug tells of how the medium allowed his grandfather to ‘go up to the Berlin radio tower and look down on the landscape and see the Birdseye perspective, or an insect perspective looking up at a building—it showed speed, it showed technology.’

A teacher, theorist, stage designer and artist, Moholy-Nagy believed in the power of art as a means of education. For him ‘art sharpens one’s senses, one’s view, one’s mind and one’s observations.’ This approach, embracing new technologies and modern materials—alongside a utopian optimism for the future of design and society—came to define the Bauhaus ethos. Hattula Moholy-Nagy, the artist’s daughter, explains, ‘He felt that artists had a role to play in bettering society, making things better, making life better for people, that good art would lead to a good life.’

‘László Moholy-Nagy‘ is on view at Hauser & Wirth London from 22 May – 7 September 2019.