At the entrance of Moholy-Nagy: Future Present is a dimly lit entrance, a setting that quietly echoes the contemplation that frames the artist’s works. As with all major exhibitions, the show begins with a brief background of the artist; with phrases that embody and reflect a man of exemplary philanthropy, scholar, and visionary. Coincidentally, this description mirrors the language much like that of the philosophies of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s, with the personalized touch of context with mentions of constructivism and Eastern European histories of the Bauhauss.
The exhibition is curated chronologically, with each new area focusing specifically on a different medium, such as oil on untreated canvas, photograms and photomontages, letterpress, cinema, and plexigas works. Within the realms of a curatorial critique, this seemed to somewhat simplify Moholy-Nagy’s work in a way that is reductive instead of additive of the initial statement at the entryway of the exhibition. Repeatedly, I found that descriptions of a group of works were placed in counterintuitive spots in relation to the group that they were supposed to supply commentary for.
Aside from the domain of curatorial critique, the works that I took the most interest in were ones that embodied or contrasted the initial quotations from Moholy-Nagy, “Art must be matched to its moment” and “The illiterate of the future will be ignorant not of writing but photography”. In relation to the first quote, is the contextual considerations of Moholy-Nagy living in several industrial cities in Europe during the rise of Nazism. His earliest paintings include several oils on untreated burlap, the first titled Radio and Railway Landscape, 1919/1920 and the second Tilled Fields Painting, 1920/21. Both pieces depict a type of abstraction of the factory and mechanized immersive lifestyle that Moholy-Nagy was growing a part of.
A separate series that seemed to politically situate itself within the realm of what is considered art and the attitudes that surrounded much of Eastern Europe, were the three enamel paintings, Construction in Enamel One, Construction in Enamel Two, and Construction in Enamel Three. I particularly favored these pieces in how they were exactly the same, except for size, and they seemed to defy all that was considered a painting. In many ways, it could be argued that this was a confrontation to “sameness,” or an attitude that was evidently promoted by eugenics in Germany in WWII.
Lastly, I focused on a group of photographs which seemed to transcend its medium and the distance of time, and featured images shot from the top of the Berlin Radio Tower. According to the curatorial text, Moholy-Nagy’s intention was that “claiming an idea was not as important as communicating it”. At the time, 1928-1929, the tower was new to the city and was an exciting advancement of public technology and infrastructure. What I appreciate most about these images is the perspective from the top down; a metaphor that seems to demonstrate not only Moholy-Nagy’s fondness for the Berlin Radio Tower as a spectacle, but that his view seems to conquer it as such a spectacle. Such a conquest through vision seems to parallel the attitudes of industry, to embrace new advancements in technology, while simultaneously challenging for new ones.