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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Beyond Boundaries: Avant-Garde Masterworks from a European Collection
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)

G 8

Details
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
G 8
signed, titled and dated 'MOHOLY G 8 (1926)' (on the reverse of the board)
oil and pen and black ink on Galalith over black tape on board
15 ½ x 19 ½ in. (39.5 x 49.6 cm.)
Executed in 1926
Provenance
Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, New York (by descent from the artist).
Galerie Tarica, Paris and Harold Diamond, New York (acquired from the above, circa 1965).
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owners, circa 1970.
Literature
C. Fawkes, "Photography and Moholy-Nagy's Do-it Yourself Aesthetic" in Studio International, vol. 190, no. 976, July-August 1975, pp. 23 (illustrated with incorrect orientation; with incorrect support).
K. Passuth, Moholy-Nagy, New York, 1985, p. 443 (illustrated in color, fig. 58).
Exhibited
(possibly) Kunsthalle Basel, Konstruktivisten: Van Doesburg, Domela, Eggeling, Gabo, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, Mondrian, Pevsner, Taeuber, Vantongerloo, Vordemberge, January-February 1937.
Kunsthalle Mannheim, László Moholy-Nagy, July-August 1961, no. 30 (illustrated).
Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum; The Hague, Gemeentemuseum and Wuppertal, Von der Heydtmuseum, Moholy-Nagy, January-June 1967, p. 27, no. A28.
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Moholy-Nagy, London, September 1968, no. 11 (illustrated).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art and New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, László Moholy-Nagy, May 1969-April 1970, p. 57, no. 21.
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska + Bargera, Konstruktivismus Entwicklungen und Tendenzen seit 1913, September-December 1972, no. 262b (illustrated; titled ohne Titel and with incorrect dimensions).
London, Tate Modern; Kunsthalle Bielefeld and New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, March 2006-January 2007, pp. 18, 69 and 183 (illustrated in color, p. 18, pl. 12; illustrated again in color, p. 69, fig. 8; with incorrect medium).
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, László Moholy-Nagy: Retrospective, October 2009-February 2010, p. 183 (illustrated in color on the front cover and illustrated again in color, p. 141; with incorrect medium and dimensions).
Madrid, Círculo de Bellas Artes; Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau and The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, László Moholy-Nagy: The Art of Light, June 2010-May 2011, p. 254 (illustrated in color, p. 177).

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Max Carter
Max Carter Head of Department

Lot Essay

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

In its profound purity as a distillation of simple, superimposed, crossed rectilinear forms, in the stark three-color contrast of white, red and black, Moholy-Nagy’s G 8 glances eastward toward the great Russian modernists, the Suprematist Malevich especially, but also the Constructivists—El Lissitzky, Popova, Rodchenko, and Tatlin—artists whose lives and work were fired in the crucible of the Russian Revolution of 1917. And so it happened with Moholy-Nagy, but far closer to the heart of central Europe, that his life was also forever changed when as a young man he was caught up in a Bolshevik-style revolution, which occurred in Hungary following the demise of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy at the end of the First World War.
The red star and hammer flag of the Hungarian Republic of Councils had flown for less than six months when in August 1919 the Romanian army occupied Budapest and a “white” terror ensued, purging the revolutionaries and driving many others abroad. Moholy entered what would become an entire lifetime in exile, 1919 in Vienna, the 1920s and early 30s in the Weimar Republic, thereafter in Amsterdam and London, ending up in Chicago in 1937. He was convinced early on, as he professed in a notebook entry dated 15 May 1919, “I’m doing right to become a painter. It is my gift to project my vitality, my building power, through light, color, form. I can give life as a painter” (quoted in S. Moholy-Nagy, Moholy-Nagy: Experiment in Totality, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969, p. 12).
Having created his last representational expressionist drawing in 1921, Moholy resolved to cast his art in the language of abstraction, “completely freed from all elements reminiscent of nature,” he later wrote. “My desire was to work with nothing but the peculiar characteristics of colors, with their pure relationships. I chose simple geometric forms as a step toward such objectivity.” His intent was not, however, a formal art for art’s sake. “The so-called ‘unpolitical’ approach to art is a fallacy,” Moholy averred. “Art may press for a socio-biological solution to problems just as energetically as social revolutionaries may press for political action” (The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, New York, 1947, p. 76).
“The reality of our century is technology,” Moholy proclaimed in “Constructivism and the Proletariat,” written in Berlin and published in the Hungarian revolutionary magazine MA (“Today”) in 1922. “To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit of this century. It has replaced the transcendental spiritualism of past eras...The art of our time has to be fundamental, precise, all-inclusive. It is the art of Constructivism…primordial, without class or ancestor. It expresses the pure form of nature—the direct color, the spatial rhythm, the equilibrium of form” (quoted in S. Moholy-Nagy, op. cit., 1969, p. 19).
The utilization of newly developed and unconventional materials was key to Moholy’s constructivist program. In lieu of canvas, he created the present G 8 on a sheet of transparent Galalith—hence the “G” in the title—a synthetic plastic produced from milk protein casein (gala = milk in Greek) rendered insoluble (lithos = stone) with formaldehyde, the uses for which were first demonstrated at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. Moholy painted the white cross on the recto, and painted the red cross and drew the small black cross on the verso of a sheet of Galalith, which he then set down on a board bearing the large black cross. The stacked effect of the forms is that they appear to float, one on top of another, in a serenely luminous void. The artist called such works, which he first produced in 1921, his transparent paintings, or transparencies.
“I became interested in painting-with-light, not on the surface of the canvas, but directly in space,” Moholy wrote. “Painting transparencies was the start. I painted as if colored light was projected on a screen...I thought this effect could be enhanced by placing translucent screens of different shapes, one behind the other, projecting the colored lights over each unit...This idea was responsible, with some changes, for my later experiments with stage sets and molded transparent plastics” (ibid., p. 75).
Moholy first exhibited his work in late 1922 at Herwarth Walden’s gallery Der Sturm in Berlin, around the time that the Van Dieman gallery presented in Germany the first large show of works by the Russian avant-garde, then in its heyday. Walter Gropius, the director of the newly opened Bauhaus in Weimar, took notice of Moholy’s work, as well as the publication of his impassioned and well-argued manifestoes and texts in various international art journals, and invited the artist to join the Bauhaus staff as a Master. Moholy’s specific duties were to take over Johannes Itten’s Foundation (Introductory) Course, as well as the Metal Workshop, which had been operating under the guidance of Paul Klee.
The introduction to the Bauhaus environment of the Constructivist ethos that Moholy advocated was controversial, as Paul Citroen, a student at the time, later recalled. “None of us who had suggested Moholy liked his Constructivism. This ‘Russian’ trend, created outside the Bauhaus, with its exact, simulatively technical forms was disgusting to us who were devoted to the extremes of German Expressionism. But since Constructivism was the newest of the new, it was the cleverest move to overcome our aversion, and by supporting Gropius’ choice of one of its creators, incorporate this “newest” into the Bauhaus system...Moholy came to Weimar as ‘the champion of youth’ [he was then 28 years old]...in contrast to the ‘old’ faculty members Kandinsky, Feininger, and Klee, who were between forty and fifty-five” (quoted in ibid., p. 35).
Moholy proved to be one of most versatile and infectiously enthusiastic Masters on the Bauhaus faculty. He expanded the Foundation Course to include a second semester, in which the fundamental ideas explored during the first phase were then applied to actual creative invention, in which the process of experimentation itself mattered more than the result, whether successful or not. Interested in all matters concerning light—he had already become a notable innovator in the field of photography—Moholy guided his students in the Metal Shop in developing what proved to become a commercially successful line of lighting fixtures, thus demonstrating the efficacious practicality of the Bauhaus program. He moreover assumed the role of the resident specialist responsible for the layout and typography of Bauhaus publications.
During his tenure at the Weimar and Dessau Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928, Moholy produced many of his finest paintings and most remarkable works in other fields, while laying the groundwork for future innovations in his art, most notably his mechanical Light Space Modulator. The worsening political situation in Europe during the 1930s forced Moholy into even more distant exile from his native land, although these circumstances provided the timely opportunity of allowing him to bring his art and ideas directly to America, where he became widely appreciated as a teacher. His legacy is today accorded ever-growing esteem. In his afterword to the fourth and posthumous edition of Moholy’s New Vision, Gropius declared, “We might well call the scope of his contribution ‘Leonardian,’ so versatile and colorful it has been” (L. Moholy-Nagy, op. cit., 1947, p. 89).

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