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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy Lot 1217
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)

Untitled (Space Modulator)

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Untitled (Space Modulator)
signed and dated 'Moholy=Nagy 45' (lower left); signed with initials and numbered 'LMN 20' (on the reverse of the artist's frame)
oil on incised Plexiglas in the artist's painted frame
Plexiglas size: 18 x 12 in. (45.8 x 30.6 cm.)
Artist's frame size: 26 x 20 in. (66 x 50.8 cm.)
Executed in 1945
Estate of the artist.
Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Chicago (by descent from the above).
Gift from the above to the family of the present owner, 1949.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Exiles + Emigrés, The Flight of European Artists from Hitler, February 1997-January 1998, pp. 266 and 406, no. 123 (illustrated in color, p. 267, fig. 264).

Lot Essay

Hattula Moholy-Nagy has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

In July 1937, Moholy-Nagy sailed to Chicago to become the director of the New Bauhaus American School of Design, subsequently named the Institute of Design, which today is part of the Illinois Institute of Technology. It was during this time that he became especially captivated by the physical and translucent properties of Plexiglas, which had become available in the United States only a few years prior in 1934. Constantly fascinated by technical innovation, in this new material, Moholy-Nagy found the ideal medium for a new series of sculpture and painting hybrid creations, which served as painterly extensions of the pioneering developments he had achieved with light, motion and space during his time at the Bauhaus. In 1944, the year before he executed the present work, the artist described working on transparent plastics: “I made discoveries which were instrumental in changing my painting technique...By producing real radiant light effects through transparent dyes on plastic and through other means…Light painting had arrived” (quoted in K. Passuth, Moholy-Nagy, London, 1985, pp. 381-382). A passion for light, as a powerful sensation, an aesthetic ideal, and in a most profoundly philosophical sense as well, became the all-consuming quest in Moholy-Nagy’s life and art.
In the present work, light passes through the raised, partly etched and painted plastic sheet to create active and ever-evolving shadows that shift--depending on the position of the light source and the viewer’s vantage point--upon the white wooden frame behind it. Additionally, Plexiglas gave him a two-dimensional surface upon which he could apply synthetic versions of colors from the light spectrum. At once paintings and sculptures, they create visual tension between movement and stasis, between two-dimensions and three-dimensions, between light and darkness, resulting in a conjunction of art and design. The floating forms of the abstract composition are painted in, overlapped, and spliced apart with the precision of a design master who understood exactly how to marry the properties of Plexiglas with expression of painted and incised line and sophisticated contrasts of pigments
After the artist’s death in 1946, his second wife, Sibyl, moved to the Bay Area with her two daughters to pursue her doctoral studies at the University of California, Berkeley. There she met Professor Walter Horn, a founder of the University’s Art History Department and a Medieval art scholar, who became a key mentor to her during her doctoral work. In 1949, Sibyl gifted the present work to Professor and Alberta Horn on the occasion of their marriage. This painting, which can be described more broadly as a contemporary take on the principles of stained glass, was an especially suitable gift for the Medieval scholar. Untitled (Space Modulator) has remained within the Horn family’s collection ever since.

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