László Moholy-Nagy’s teaching reviewed – ARTnews.com
László Moholy-Nagy, one of the most famous artists associated with the Bauhaus, was never much appreciated by his colleagues at the famous German art school which gave its name to the European movement of the 1920s. had never received a proper art education, and the classes he taught were freeform and, for the time, obsessed with technology. Although he developed a loyal following among the students, staff members and colleagues appreciated his methods less. He finally left his post in 1928, in a dramatic controversy that transcended the German art world.
Moholy-Nagy’s five-year tenure at the Bauhaus, however, is only a small part of his career. Arguably his efforts to restart the Bauhaus in the United States, where he fled when the Nazis took power in Europe, are even more important than his teaching in Germany, according to a new documentary. In 1937, with the help of Container Corporation of America president Walter Paepcke, Moholy-Nagy established a new art and design school in Chicago. Call it Bauhaus 2.0 or, as it did, the New Bauhaus.
There have been many attempts to label Moholy-Nagy as an avant-garde luminary. In 2016, when the Guggenheim Museum held a Moholy-Nagy retrospective, the institution’s curators tried, quite convincingly, to present him as a pioneer figure in the history of art and technology, thanks to to its adherence to the new mediums of photography. and cinema. Others have tried to position him as a master designer or a pioneering intellectual.
But, like that of Alysa Nahmias The new Bauhaus convincingly suggests, Moholy-Nagy may in fact be most important as an educator. This film puts the artist’s experimental educational practice at the center and shows that, without him, the history of design – and perhaps also the history of art – would not be alike.
In The new Bauhaus, several people questioned ask: If Moholy-Nagy is so important, why doesn’t he have the same stature as Picasso? One answer might be that his ambitions were so great; it was almost impossible to achieve his goals. With his abstract paintings, camera-less photographs and non-narrative films, Moholy-Nagy sought to initiate a change in the way people think. As Joyce Tsai, chief curator of the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, says, “You do abstract art not because it’s pretty. You do abstract art because you want to change the world.
A similar line of thought guided Moholy-Nagy’s teaching at the New Bauhaus. As in Germany almost a decade earlier, friends were skeptical of his plans for school. When he discussed his idea of making the New Bauhaus an institution with the mission of a total fusion of art, science and design. During a weekend in Cape Cod in the late 1930s, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, two key figures of the original Bauhaus, told him he had to curb his ambitions. But it was too late: he had already printed a diagram explaining the New Bauhaus program – a ringed circular model with “BASIC DESIGN WORKSHOP” on the outside and things like “URBANISM” at its heart – in brochures about school.
“The basic idea of New Bauhaus education is that everyone is talented,” Moholy-Nagy once said. (His words are read aloud in the film by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.) Students were encouraged to try just about anything. But not everyone was satisfied with this liberated environment. Some students did not understand why they should study biology and listen to lectures by then little-known composer, John Cage.
And there was also dissension among funders, who found themselves bewildered by what Moholy-Nagy had to offer. Design historian Victoria Matranga says in the film: “Businessmen wanted a vocational school. . . . Moholy had a different view of what education should be. Eventually, the school closed in 1938, just one year after its founding. Moholy-Nagy quickly filed a complaint against his benefactors, who claimed he had “hitlerized” the students. (The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.)
Although the new Bauhaus failed, Moholy-Nagy’s next educational endeavor did not fail. In 1939, again with funding from Paepcke, he launched the School of Design in Chicago. Like the New Bauhaus, it was not your typical art school. Learning to use a table saw was more important than devouring theory, the workshops were held not in a dedicated school building but on top of a bread factory, and the admission process was hardly rigorous. “How did they control the students? », Asks Elizabeth Siegel, curator of the Art Institute of Chicago. “I don’t think they checked the students at all.” However, many students have fond memories of school. “I can’t tell you how exciting it was,” says architect and educator Beatrice Takeuchi.
Where the New Bauhaus and the School of Design differ is in what the students of the latter achieved. Graphic designer Nathan Lerner, one of the School of Design’s first students, then created the famous bear-shaped honey bottle that can still be found on supermarket shelves. Robert Brownjohn, who attended school in the 1940s, ultimately directed the opening credits sequence for the 1964 James Bond film. The golden finger. As exercises in school, many had to create sculptures of hands that could be easily picked up, with grooves to guide the fingers along their surfaces; these objects, suggests Siegel, contributed to the development of ergonomic furniture.
The design school has also started a mini revolution in photography, which is not surprising, given Moholy-Nagy and his wife Lucia’s long-standing interest in the medium. Harry Callahan was hired to teach at the school and then he hired Aaron Siskind as well. Suddenly, a whole crop of young photographers using modernist techniques with a twist began to increase. Opening, still the premier photography magazine in the United States, devoted full coverage to the bizarre and fascinating activity taking place at the school, renamed in 1944 as the Institute of Design. “Going to the ID card has changed my life,” recalls the late photographer Barbara Crane.
Moholy-Nagy left the Institute of Design in 1945 and his career was cut short a year later when he died of leukemia. He was only 51 years old and his accomplishments were mostly evident in the unclassifiable art he left behind. Yet like The new Bauhaus argues that the less visible aspects of Moholy-Nagy’s influence – the people he touched and the artists he encouraged – are what make him important. He probably would have agreed with the position of this documentary. As he once said, “I don’t believe in art so much as in humanity. Man reveals himself. Much of it is art.
The new Bauhaus is now commendable via video-on-demand services.