From May 27 to September 7, 2016, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will present the first comprehensive retrospective in nearly fifty years of the work of pioneering artist and educator László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). Organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Moholy-Nagy: Future Present examines the full career of the utopian modernist who believed in the power of art and technology as a vehicle for social transformation and the betterment of humanity. Despite Moholy-Nagy’s prominence and the visibility of his work during his lifetime, few exhibitions have conveyed his experimental engagement, enthusiasm for industrial materials, and his radical innovations with movement and light. This long overdue presentation, which encompasses his multidisciplinary methodology, brings together more than 300 works drawn from public and private collections across Europe and the United States, some of which have never before been shown publicly in this country.
Each of the three organizing institutions has a history of collecting and presenting the artist’s works or a relationship to the interaction of art and technology, culminating in a comprehensive exhibition, innovative conservation efforts, and a scholarly exhibition catalogue examining Moholy-Nagy’s practice and influence. After its debut presentation in New York, the exhibition will be on view in Chicago from October 2, 2016–January 3, 2017, and in Los Angeles from February 12–June 18, 2017.
Moholy-Nagy: Future Present provides an opportunity to examine the full career of this influential Bauhaus teacher, founder of Chicago’s Institute of Design, and versatile artist who paved the way for increasingly interdisciplinary and multimedia work and practice. Among his radical innovations were experimenting with cameraless photography; using industrial materials in painting and sculpture; researching with light, transparency, and movement; working at the forefront of abstraction; and moving fluidly between the fine and applied arts. The exhibition features collages, drawings, ephemera, films, paintings, photograms, photographs, photomontages, and sculptures, underscoring a legacy of cross-disciplinary experimentation and a remarkable ability to work across mediums. As part of the exhibition, a contemporary fabrication of a space originally conceived by Moholy-Nagy in 1930, Room of the Present, will be on display at all three venues, for the first time in the United States. The space, which was not realized in Moholy-Nagy’s lifetime, contains aspects of the artist’s exhibition and product design, including a replica of his iconic kinetic Light Prop for an Electric Stage (1929–30). Room of the Present illustrates the artist’s belief in the power of images and his approach to the various means with which to view them—a highly relevant paradigm in today’s constantly shifting and evolving technological world.
Born in 1895 in Austria-Hungary (now southern Hungary), Moholy-Nagy moved to Vienna briefly and then to Berlin in 1920, where he encountered Dada artists, Russian Constructivists, and Galerie Der Sturm, where he exhibited work on several occasions. After teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar and then Dessau in the 1920s, producing books and painting extensively across mediums, he enjoyed success in Berlin as a commercial artist, exhibition and stage designer, and typographer. Adolf Hitler’s rise to power made life increasingly difficult for the avant-garde in Germany; thus in 1934 Moholy-Nagy moved with his family to the Netherlands and then to London. Once he moved to Chicago in 1937, he never returned to Europe. In the United States, he focused on opening a school of design and made some of his most original and experimental work. He gave his full attention to American exhibition venues, showing nearly three dozen times across the United States—including in four solo shows—before his premature death from leukemia in November 1946. His interdisciplinary and investigative approach, migrating from the school to the museum or gallery space, pushed towards what he referred to as the Gesamtwerk, the total work for which he searched throughout his life.
Moholy-Nagy: Future Present is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Karole P. B. Vail, Associate Curator, is the Guggenheim’s organizing curator for the exhibition.
The New York presentation of Moholy-Nagy: Future Present is made possible by Lavazza. Funding is generously provided by the David Berg Foundation, The Hilla von Rebay Foundation, the William Talbott Hillman Foundation, and the Robert Lehman Foundation. The Leadership Committee for the exhibition, chaired by Peter and Dede Lawson-Johnston, is gratefully acknowledged for its support, with special thanks to Achim Moeller. Additional funding is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.