Moholy-Nagy deckchairs

László Moholy-Nagy in Britain

Between the New Vision and the New Bauhaus 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) was defined by the British art historian Herbert Read as “one of the most creative intelligences of our time.” He was a painter, photographer and designer, as well as a theorist, and a talented and inspirational teacher. Born in Hungary, he moved to Berlin, where he established his career in the aftermath of the First World War. In 1923, at Walter Gropius’s invitation, he became the youngest teacher at the Bauhaus School in Dessau. Here he left his mark with his innovative ideas on art education and developed his revolutionary theory of the so-called New Vision. The theory asserted photography’s independent role from the other visual arts, with its own unique language based on the characteristics of the medium.

Following the Nazi’s rise to power, Moholy-Nagy moved to London in 1934. In the two years spent in Britain he achieved a remarkable body of work across many disciplines, working mostly on commission; among those who contributed to provide employment opportunities were some of the most important figures of the British architectural community, including John Betjeman, Leslie Martin, Jim Richards of the Architectural Review, and his friend and ex-Bauhaus colleague Walter Gropius. In the summer of 1937, disillusioned by the lack of prospects for teaching and encouraged by Gropius’s recent appointment at Harvard University, he left Britain for the United States, where he became director of a new design school in Chicago – initially called the New Bauhaus - and where he lived for the rest of his life.

This feature was written to complement the exhibition László Moholy-Nagy in Britain: Between the New Vision and the New Bauhaus at the Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place,  London, 1 October 2019 - 1 February 2020. The exhibition draws on the RIBA’s unique holdings to demonstrate both the range of his British work and the strong ties that were established between Moholy-Nagy and the British modernists; his constant engagement with the representation of space and his boundless creativity made him indeed an inspirational figure for architects, with whom he collaborated throughout his life.

To purchase the accompanying book see Moholy-Nagy in Britain: 1935-1937.

Article by Valeria Carullo 

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