28
Nov
10

Exhibition: ‘László Moholy-Nagy – Art of Light’ at Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 4th November 2010 – 16th January 2011

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My apologies for the paucity of reviews of local exhibitions on the blog recently. It’s not that I haven’t been going to exhibitions far from it, just that nothing has really struck me as worthy of an in depth review!

Recently I went to the new Monash University Gallery of Art (MUMA) and the opening exhibition of the gallery, CHANGE (until 18th December). This is a hotchpotch of an exhibition that showcases the “breadth and depth of the Monash University Collection, reflecting on the changing forms, circumstances and developments in contemporary art practice from the 1960s to the present day – from late modernism to our contemporary situation … the exhibition signals the potential for institutional change that MUMA’s new situation represents.” Avowing an appeal to the senses the exhibition has some interesting works, notably a large canvas by Howard Arkley, ‘Family home – suburban exterior 1993’, Daniel von Sturmer’s installation ‘The Field Equation’ (2006), Mike Parr’s bloody, mesmeric performance ‘Close the Concentration Camps’ (2002) that you just can’t take your eyes off and part of Tracey Moffatt’s haunting series ‘Up In The Sky’ (1998), the “part” declamation leaving one unable to decipher the narrative of the work without seeing the whole series on the Roslyn Oxley9 website. This is symptomatic of the whole exhibition – somehow it doesn’t come together, one of the problems of large, unthematically organised group exhibitions.

The spaces of the new gallery are interesting to wander through but seem a little pokey and confined. A series of smallish intersecting rooms to the left hand side of the gallery leads one around to a big gallery to the right hand side (the best space), before another small front room. Down the spine runs a narrow enclosed area with exposed trusses and ducts that is unimaginative in design and redundant as an exhibiting space. Overall the gallery feels claustrophobic being an almost hermetically sealed environment enclosed by several sliding glass doors at entry points (and yes, I do know that a gallery has to have regulated temperature, light and humidity). This is at odds with the idea of exhibiting fresh, exciting art that breathes life.

I also ventured to Anna Pappas Gallery to see the exhibition of photographic work ‘Endless Days’ by Vin Ryan (until 23rd December). Nice idea but a disappointment. Featuring grided, colour-coded photographs of the physical artefacts used to plate 20 meals eaten by the Ryan family the information within the prints is almost indecipherable, the selection of plates, cups and objects so small as to become mere colour decoration. I struggled to see what the objects actually were; even in the 5 individual prints of a meal the definition of the objects was weak, the printing not up to standard. The moral of the story is this: if you are going to use the photographic medium for artwork make sure that a/ you know how to construct an image visually using the medium and b/ that you get someone who knows what they are doing to print the photographs for you if you can’t print them well yourself.

On to better things. In this posting there are some outstanding photographs: the imaginative camera angles of Moholy-Nagy (heavily influenced by Constructivism and Suprematism) where truly ground-breaking at the time. The iconic ‘From the radio tower, Berlin’ (1928) is simply breathtaking in the photographs ability to flatten the pictorial landscape into abstract shape and form. Many thankx to Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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László Moholy-Nagy
Am 7 (26)
1926
Oil on canvas
75,8 x 96 cm
Ernst und Kurt Schwitters Stiftung/ Sprengel Museum, Hannover
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Eton. Eleves watching cricket from the pavilion on Agar’s Plough
ca. 1930
Gelatine silver print
15,7 x 20,7 cm / 16,3 x 21,3 cm
Achat 1994. Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Photogram
ca. 1938
Original photogram from Chicago
204 x 252 cm
Swiss Foundation of Photography, Winterthur
Donation in memoriam S. and Giedion Welcker
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Untitled
1940’s
Fujicolor crystal archive print
27,9 x 35,6 cm / 52,1 x 63,5 cm
Courtesy László Moholy-Nagy Estate and Andrea Rosen Gallery Inc., New York
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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“For Moholy-Nagy was always a theoretician and practitioner in equal measure, always wanting to be a holistic artist. He approached his work – painting, photography, commercial and industrial design, film, sculpture, scenography – from a wide variety of aspects and practised it as a radical, extreme experiment, by refusing to place his hugely differing works in any sort of aesthetic hierarchy. He also attached enormous importance to education, which is why, at the request of Walter Gropius, he worked in this field for the Bauhaus in Weimar (1923–1925) and Dessau (1925–1928). In Chicago, where he settled in 1937, he again assumed teaching duties and founded the “New Bauhaus”, which sought to realise the programmes of the German Bauhaus in the United States. Shortly afterwards he founded the Institute of Design in Chicago, where he was to remain active until his death in 1946. The institute was later incorporated in the Illinois Institute of Technology, which offers study courses to this day.

From Weimar to Chicago Moholy-Nagy retained his faith in his pedagogical ideal, which for him meant not only teaching, but the moral education of human beings. He believed in education as a means of developing all the abilities lying dormant in the students and as a means of paving the way to a “new, total human being.”

All of Moholy-Nagy’s theoretical contributions arose out of his artistic and pedagogical work. In his numerous writings he gradually presented his ideas, thus developing a complete artistic and pedagogical aesthetic. In his 1925 landmark essay “Painting, Photography, Film” he developed an aesthetic theory of light – light as a matrix of art and art as light. He applied his aesthetic theory of light not only to painting, photography and film, but also to theatrical and commercial design.

From that point on light became the foundation of Moholy-Nagy’s practical and theoretical work. For him art of whatever kind only acquired meaning when it reflected light. Painting was also reinterpreted on the basis of this criterion. Moholy-Nagy described his development as a painter as a shift away from “painting from transparency” to a painting that was free of any representational constraints and created the possibility of painting “not with colours, but with light.” This theory reached its full potential in photography and film. Etymologically, the word “photography” means “writing with light.” The artistic essence of film consists in the portrayal of “inter-related movements as revealed by light projections.” Although he was not in charge of the photography classes in the Bauhaus, it was there that he wrote Painting, Photography, Film, drawing upon his photographic experience. He invented the “photogram,” a purely light-based form of graphic representation, thus demonstrating an ability to create photographic images without a camera at the same time as the “Rayogram” was invented by Man Ray in Paris. He saw photography as a completely autonomous medium whose potential was still to be discovered. He criticized “pictoriality,” propagating an innovative, creative and productive photography. He regarded seriality as one of the main features of the practice of photography and opposed the “aura” of the one-off work in contrast to the infinite multifariousness of the photographic cliché, thus anticipating one of Walter Benjamin’s theses.

The distinction between production and reproduction is a basic theme of his art. A prominent aspect of every work is its ability to integrate the unknown. Works that only repeat or reproduce familiar relationships, are described as “reproductive,” while those that create or produce new relationships are “productive.” For Moholy-Nagy the ability of a work of art to create something new (a basic feature of Modernism) is a key criterion. He postulated for painting, photography and film a moral and aesthetic imperative – the New. Art had to confront new times and an industrial civilization. In the systematic implementation of this thesis 1926 turned out to be the year in which his pictorial output was greater than his works in other fields, but 1927 witnessed a positive flood of photographic, scenographic, kinetic and film productions. Painting was something he never abandoned. He decided to drop the representational painting inherited from the past and to devote himself to non-representational or “pure” painting instead. The emergence of photography gave painting the perfect opportunity to free itself from all figurative or representative imperatives. Artists did not have to decide in favour of one medium or another, but should use all media to capture and master an optical creation.”

Text from the Martin Gropius-Bau website

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László Moholy-Nagy
Oskar Schlemmer in Ascona
1926
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokio
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Pneumatik
1924
Collection E. Zyablov, Moskau
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Flower
ca. 1925-27
Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
From the radio tower, Berlin
1928
Gelatine silver print
28 x 21,3 cm
Private collection
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy
Lago Maggiore, Ascona, Switzerland
ca. 1930
Gelatine silver print
20,8 x 28,4 cm
Collection Spaarnestad Photo/Nationaal Archief
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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László Moholy-Nagy / Paul Hartland
Carnival: Composition with two masks
ca. 1934
Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010

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Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Corner Stresemannstr. 110
10963 Berlin
Phone +49 (0)30 254 86-0

Opening Hours:
Wednesday to Monday 10 – 20 hrs
Tuesday closed

Martin-Gropius-Bau website

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1 Response to “Exhibition: ‘László Moholy-Nagy – Art of Light’ at Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin”


  1. 1 ursula harrison
    January 1, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    i,ve like this artist sometime now and after visiting the bauhaus museum in berlin for the last 2years i,m sure there is more to learn from this artist and time


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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