Moholy-Nagy exhibition review

László Moholy-Nagy, a talented painter, photographer and influential instructor in the Bauhaus school as well as an advocator of technology-art integrations, demonstrated his advanced thinkings in works and teachings. Moholy-Nagy: Present Future, the exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, reveals his dedications in multiple fields and uses various works to prove the existence and development of his thinking and practices in today’s world.

“Students should learn to delegate rather than work alone and to be mindful of how their art benefits society,” Moholy-Nagy: Present Future starts with a quote about the artist’s philosophy on artists making. To demonstrate the consistency of Moholy-Nagy’s thinking and action, the exhibition includes paintings, photography, design works for theaters, buildings, industrial objects and more.

Purposely putting paintings at the entrance of the exhibition, the curators first introduce Moholy-nagy as a painter to the audience. Paintings about bridges and buildings become a headline for the exhibition, and by examining the basic elements — alphabets, strips, primary colors —the viewers are able to visually understand the “elemental utopia” that Moholy-nagy desired. The paintings show Moholy-nagy’s transition when works from painterly to industrially as more circles, squares, and lines appear deeper in the exhibition.

The photomontage series come after paintings. As a two-dimensional medium that’s similar to paintings, Moholy-Nagy’s photomontage brings out his humor and interference to the world. Using magazine images, Moholy reinvented images that were ready-made as a means to merge art and cultural commentary. By further exploring the possibilities of circles, lines, and other geometric shapes, Moholy expanded his methods to connect and to communicate by dissembling and reassembling within the contemporary context.

Stepping away from traditional arts and walking deeper into the room, viewers gradually walk into the second part of Moholy exhibition. Transitioning from traditional mediums to design works, viewers are able to see Moholy’s works for theater buildings and factories. Inside of a small dark room, slide shows and movie clips demonstrate Moholy’s talents beyond a painter. However, the size of the room is too small to contain Moholy’s excellency and thinkings in full. “No Touch” signs and occasional “Please don’t step too close to the works” from the guards build an invisible wall between the viewers and Moholy. The irony stands between Moholy’s open thinking about integration and the exhibition effort to put people away.

To emphasize Moholy’s creativity as a designer, the second part of the exhibition provides sufficient design works, sculptures, quotes, and explanations to the viewers. With fewer separations and categorizations among the design works, the second part of the exhibition is more open and more inclusive than the first. Applying Moholy uses of circles and squares, the room includes pedestals in round shapes and rectangular viewing spaces. On the pedestals, sculptures in Plexiglas are hung and placed around. Viewers are encouraged to walk around the circle as if they are invited to examine Moholy’s life and works in a full circulation.

As leaving the exhibition, viewers may or may not have a strong impression about the curatorial plan because the idea for the show is built into a flowing structure. Specific topics or themes are useless when the exhibition is about Moholy’s life works. The title Present and Future is no more than a summary of the influence of his works — his thinking is a constant force that passes on to future generations. 

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