Moholy-Nagy:  Future Present

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present

If there is a single word that could sum up the the career of László Moholy-Nagy, it would probably be refraction. The refraction of light is an obvious key, both with respect to Moholy’s overall formal approach and technical approach to his preferred media (and not simply photography). But ‘refraction’ might also describe his artistic response to the ideas, currents and cultural phenomena of his time. Moholy-Nagy came of age at a moment of turbulent transition – technological, economic, cultural and political – and it might be added, disruption. But his work reflects the vision of an artist who persistently saw past such disruptions into the ways such phenomena inflected and intersected each other. True to the Bauhaus ideal that sustained him across Europe and into the U.S., Moholy-Nagy was continually refashioning a modus vivendi with the world around him. Refraction is the reactive ‘through-line’ in Moholy-Nagy’s response to the spirit of the age. LACMA’s installation of the exhibition (a co-production with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Guggenheim), designed by Johnston Marklee, beautifully captures this spirit of refractivity and transparency in his art. Although the exhibition is essentially chronologically organized, a sequence of doorframes cuts a diagonal track or virtual corridor across the exhibition space, as if to underscore the intersectionality of Moholy’s work in various media and their cross-infusions. We’re inevitably reminded here that painting and graphic arts were in fact Moholy’s first media – but even here, veering away from Kandinsky in an essentially Constructivist direction, Moholy references industrial design and even uses industrial materials. We think of Moholy-Nagy as a pioneer of contemporary photography – and there is abundant evidence of it here, in everything from conventional photography to camera-less photograms and collage. But his truest medium is light itself. Photography provided Moholy with the interstitial and connective tissue between light and motion. If his sculptural vision seems today more completely realized by Constructivist ‘cousins’ like Gabo and Pevsner, Moholy-Nagy’s work points us toward a ballet of light that might play across an infinitely expanding universe.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru June 18, 2017