A large and ambitious new exhibition highlights the prodigious output of modernist master László Moholy-Nagy, and stirs a new appreciation for both the rigor and the playfulness in his work. “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present” was organized by the Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The latter two museums will host the touring show through June 2017—it runs at the Guggenheim through September 7. The exhibition features more than 300 photomontages, photos, photograms, drawings, paintings, sculptures, films and collages drawn from private and museum collections. Moholy-Nagy is usually acknowledged in photographic histories for his experiments with photograms, which he conducted contemporaneously but independently of Man Ray. But “Future Present” shows that he had a lifelong interest in camera-based imagery as well, and captured a variety of images characterized by unusual viewpoints and startling shapes and forms. The Hungarian-born Moholy-Nagy joined the faculty of the Bauhaus School in 1925, and like many of his colleagues, did not limit his artistic experimentations to any particular medium. After leaving the Bauhaus in 1929, he traveled to France to make films, and then moved to Amsterdam and London where he worked in graphic design before he eventually moved to Chicago where he founded the School of Design (later named the Institute of Design).
The Guggeheim’s Karole P.B. Vail, the lead curator of the show, positions Moholy-Nagy as “a Utopian artist” who believed in the power of art and technology to serve the betterment of humanity. Many artists of the inter-war period who idealized technology evolved towards either leftist agitprop or Fascistic art. Moholy-Nagy eluded narrow ideology. If he dreamed of a better future, he also took delight in the present. In the photograms, collages, films and photos on view in “Future Present,” he elevated ordinary objects, making them worthy of celebration and prolonged contemplation. Moholy-Nagy approached every subject that attracted his attention—from the principles of light and transparency to a scene he glimpsed on the sidewalk—with a sense of wonder. —Holly Stuart Hughes
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