The Moholy-Nagy Foundation is a private family foundation organized in 2003. It was formed in response to the continuing interest in the life and works of László Moholy-Nagy, one of the most gifted and versatile of the artists of the twentieth century.
Our goals include:
– The production of a complete catalogue raisonné in electronic and printed form
– Providing accurate information to private individuals and institutions regarding the art and photography created by Moholy-Nagy
– The furnishing of an interface with specialists and the general public through a website, exhibitions and other events, and eventually an accessible archive and study center.
A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF THE ARTIST
László Moholy-Nagy came of age during the First World War and launched himself as an artist during the post-War period of cultural ferment that enveloped the Western world. After the Great War finally ended, modernist trends in many fields, whose development the War had stifled, could now flower, and Moholy-Nagy became an active participant in several of them, gradually positioning himself on the cutting edge of art, photography, commercial design, stage and film, and design education.
“The spotlight that shines upon the Bauhaus also
shines upon him”
His career path, his artistic production, as well as his personal life, were strongly influenced by large-scale cultural trends and historical events. He was very much a product of the turbulent history of the first half of the 20th century, a period of time that continues to be a subject of deep interest today. For example, the year 2009 was being celebrated in parts of Europe and the United States as the Bauhaus Year.
The Bauhaus, Germany’s most famous design school, was founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius in 1919. The widespread and long-lasting influence of the Bauhaus on modern design and design education is impressive, especially because it existed for only 14 years. Moholy-Nagy was appointed a master, or teacher, at the Bauhaus in 1923 and became one of the most enthusiastic proponents of its educational aims and methods. The spotlight that shines upon the Bauhaus also shines upon him. So, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to give you some details about the life and career of László Moholy-Nagy, a modern artist of the twentieth century, which – for many of us – was also our century.
László was born in 1895 in Borsód, now called Bácsborsód, a two-street village in southern Hungary. His father managed a large estate and the house the family lived in—and where he was born–came with the job. My Hungarian family, including my father, had little to say about this man, who was evidently a cause of extreme embarrassment to them. For years it was asserted that grandfather had gone to America and died over there. It was only a few years ago that I learned that he had walked out on his family when his children were young and never left Hungary. There were three surviving sons, of which László was the middle child. Their mother took the boys to her family, and their maternal uncle, Gusztáv Nagy, became their guardian. He was a lawyer and lived in a town called Moholy, which is now in Serbia.
One remarkable aspect of Moholy’s life is that he was able to benefit from the guidance and support from a succession of male mentors and female handmaidens. Perhaps he was willing to accept advice and help because of his childhood circumstances. Uncle Gusztáv – Guszti bácsi in Hungarian – can be considered the first of these helping hands. László and his younger brother, Ákos, went to gymnasium, that is, college-track high school, in Szeged, at that time the second largest city of Hungary after Budapest. In Szeged he received a top-notch education, which I believe influenced the way he came to view the world. Being acquainted with several fields of knowledge helped him see relationships between things, to look at things holistically.
At first László wanted to become a writer and while he was still in school some of his poetry was published in the Szeged newspapers. But when he graduated in 1913, Guszti bácsi encouraged him to begin law school in Budapest. He moved to the capital with his mother and brothers. World War I interrupted László’s law studies, which he never finished. He enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1915 as an officer in training in the artillery.
“The War was a terrible experience for him.
His social idealism began to crystallize at this time”
He had begun to draw even before he went into the army. But, during the many hours he was stuck in artillery observation posts, he turned to drawing to pass the time. He produced hundreds of sketches, many in color, on the backs of military-issue postcards that he could easily carry with him. They are colorful, lively, and often humorous. His left thumb was shattered by shrapnel in 1917 and he had a long convalescence in Budapest. He went on reserve military status. The War was a terrible experience for him. His social idealism began to crystallize at this time. He published short stories and literary criticism while in Budapest, but he was already thinking seriously of becoming an artist. He was encouraged in this by a friend from the university. Iván Hevesy, who later became an art critic, was another of his important early mentors.
In Budapest László attended evening art school classes and entered his work in exhibitions. So we can say that he embarked upon his career as an artist around 1918 at the age of 23. His paintings and drawings were figurative and tended towards Expressionism. He added the name of Guszti bácsi’s town to his own and became László Moholy-Nagy. He apparently became interested in photography at this time through another friend, Erzsébet Landau, who had her own photography studio in Budapest. Presently known evidence suggests that Erzsi Landau, gave or sold László one of her old cameras and set him on the path to becoming a photographer. Although I don’t know the exact date when he began to photograph, it was some time before he left Hungary.
When the War ended, Hungary went through a short period of revolution and political turmoil before a dictatorship was established under Admiral Miklós Horthy. László left Budapest and returned to Szeged. And from Szeged he went to Vienna at the end of 1919. From that time on, he was more or less on the move for the rest of his life. In Vienna he joined the MA group of Hungarian avant-gardes, who were in temporary exile from the political repression in their homeland. The group was led by the artist and writer, Lajos Kassák, who also strongly influenced Moholy’s career. But Moholy found Vienna uncongenial and went to Berlin in the spring of 1920.