press release

László Moholy-Nagy is a world-famous figure of twentieth-century avant-garde art. His visual art and theoretical works, photographs, films, educational activities and photograms - taken without a camera and now synonymous with his name - were of such significance that it is no exaggeration to say that since Moholy-Nagy, we see things differently; since Moholy-Nagy, our thinking about art has been transformed. His innovations over the decades have become so natural, his influence so pervasive, that we now almost have to rediscover him once again. In the series of Hungarian photographers who accomplished world fame - Robert Capa, Martin Munkácsi, György Kepes - the Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art now presents the work of László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), focussing primarily his photography. This is a long-overdue show: Hungary has not held such an exhibition of Moholy-Nagy’s work since 1975, not even on the centenary of his birth in 1995.

Moholy-Nagy began his creative career in the first half of the twentieth century in Lajos Kassák’s activist circle where, at twenty years old, he was one of Hungary’s youngest avant-garde artists. In 1919 he left for Vienna then Berlin, where he came under the influence of Dadaism and Constructivism, which he later developed further independently. On the invitation of director Walter Gropius in 1923, he became a teacher at the Weimar Bauhaus, then the most progressive art school. There, alongside the Metal Workshop, he also led the definitive course in new arts education, the Foundation. The Bauhaus was more than a school: it was a way of life that unified life, art and science. As well as exploring painting, leading the Metal Workshop, writing and editing books and applying new typographies at the experimental, innovative Bauhaus school, Moholy-Nagy also turned towards photography and film as forms offering new possibilities in art. Photography, and in particular film represented new technologies that questioned the traditional principles of art, among them the uniqueness of the artefacts and the personal signature of the artist.

The central organising principle in Moholy-Nagy’s diverse activities was light: light defined his paintings, sculptures, photoplastics, photograms, photographs, typography and theatre sets. He did not regard photography as a tool for the perfect imaging of reality, rather, it was his conviction that the camera offered new discoveries and possibilities for modern people to finally liberate themselves from the obligation to depict, to copy reality. This proved to be an experience that defined Bauhaus’s entire life. After Berlin, Weimar and Dessau, he settled in Chicago in 1937, where he founded the ‘New Bauhaus’ and remained until the end of his life, working as an experimental, innovative artist and theorist. He regarded art as an activity that embraced the whole of life which was non-hierarchical, accessible and cultivatable by everyone, and he was a firm believer in the educational role of art.

The Ludwig Museum’s exhibition presents his diverse life achievement from 1922, with Moholy-Nagy’s photography, films, and works ‘made with light’ in central focus. His first writings on light as a medium were published in 1923, in the Broom magazine, New York. One of the most exciting parts of the exhibition is the compilation of all Moholy-Nagy’s films, shown together here for the first time and according to the artist’s original conception. Such an ambitious and large-scale exhibition of Moholy-Nagy’s oeuvre could only have been realised with international collaboration. This exhibition brings together over 200 pieces and documents from over twenty museums around the world (Tate, Whitney, Tokyo Metropolitan, etc.) as well as private collections. It is based on the curatorial concept of the director of Madrid’s la Fábrica, Oliva Maria Rubio, and is the result of joint work between the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin and the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. The exhibition has previously shown in Madrid, Berlin and The Hague, and will open to audiences in Budapest until the end of September.

Moholy-Nagy’s rich oeuvre also allows us to make slightly different emphases according to location. In Berlin, the legendary 1929 Film und Foto (FiFo) exhibition and his pedagogical works were emphasized, while in The Hague, the focus was on the time he spent in the Netherlands between 1933 and 1935. With the participation of two internationally-renowned Hungarian art historians, experts of Moholy-Nagy, Krisztina Passuth and Éva Bajkay, the Budapest exhibition is complemented by photographs and publications from Hungarian collections. Thanks to László Moholy-Nagy’s family, valuable documents that have not been seen in any of the earlier locations have been added to the exhibition.

The exhibition is curated by Oliva Maria Rubio. Coordinators: Kata Oltai, Victoria del Val.

The exhibition has been realised in partnership between Ludwig Museum-Museum of Contemporary Art, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and La Fábrica.

The exhibition takes place within the programme of the Hungarian EU presidency, and is supported by Hungarofest.

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László Moholy-Nagy
Kurator: Oliva Maria Rubio