Alexander Kaplen began collecting photographs in 1991 and continued until his passing in 2015. His primary interest in all that he collected was modernism; within photography, he was particularly interested in European modernism from between the two World Wars. Kaplen (or, ‘Lex’, as he was known to close family and friends) had a passion for life in all its diverse aspects, ranging from designing his own furniture to appreciating the music of Aaron Copland, Claude Debussy and Hector Berlioz. Kaplen was fiercely intelligent, amply demonstrated by his graduating from Harvard University and Yale University Law School, and supremely magnanimous and philanthropic, supporting such organizations as the New York Philharmonic, the Film Forum, New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. From the start of his time collecting, Kaplen decided to purchase only what he considered the best examples by an artist. Over the course of his twenty-five years collecting photographs, he bought a total of only eleven, demonstrating his highly discerning eye. Christie’s is honored to be able to offer seven of these exceptional photographs for auction here.

From the Radio Tower, Berlin, 1928

From the Radio Tower, Berlin, 1928
ferrotyped gelatin silver print, mounted on board, printed c. 1941
signed and dated in pencil (mount, recto); titled in pencil with typed credit, title and date on affixed Museum of Modern Art exhibition label (mount, verso)
image/sheet: 9 5/8 x 7 1/2 in. (24.4 x 19.05 cm.)
mount: 17 1/2 x 13 1/2 in. (44.5 x 34.2 cm.)
This print is one from an edition of ten, produced exclusively for the Museum of Modern Art.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York;
acquired from the above by Eliot Noyes, Director of Industrial Design, Museum of Modern Art, 1941–1942;
gifted from the above to a private collector;
Christie's New York, October 6, 1998, lot 261;
acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
Telehor, #1-2, 1936, pl. 52.
László Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion, Institute of Design, Chicago, 1947, fig. 226.
Sybil Moholy-Nagy, Experiment in Totality, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1969, p. 73.
Krisztina Passuth, Moholy-Nagy, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1985, p. 79.
Exhibition catalogue, László Moholy-Nagy: Retrospective, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2009, p. 51.
Hattula Moholy-Nagy, László Moholy-Nagy: A Life in Motion, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, 2004, fig. 15.
Exhibition catalogue, Moholy-Nagy: Future Present, Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, 2016, pl. 169, p. 136.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, American Photographs at $10, December 1941–January 1942.

Brought to you by

Shlomi Rabi
Shlomi Rabi

Lot Essay

In 1940, Beaumont Newhall, newly appointed as the first curator of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, purchased the entire exhibition of works by La´szlo´ Moholy-Nagy at the Delphic Studio Galleries, signaling his strong support for the artist. The following year, From the Radio Tower, Berlin, 1928 was chosen by co-curators Newhall and Ansel Adams for inclusion in the inaugural exhibition of the Department of Photographs, titled Sixty Photographs: A Survey of Camera Esthetics, which opened that December. The goal of the exhibition was to highlight the power of photography as fine art, ‘not to define but to suggest the possibilities of photographic vision,’ Newhall stated.

On December 2, 1941, MoMA then installed three new ‘selling exhibitions’ aimed at encouraging visitors to consider various forms of inexpensive art as holiday gifts. These three exhibitions, Useful Objects Under $10, Silk Screen Prints Under $10 and American Photographs At $10, were modelled on a successful selling exhibition held the previous year of silk screenprints. The photography exhibition was considered 'an experimental project'. All proceeds were to go to the artists; the Museum earned no commission.

For American Photographs A $10, Newhall invited nine photographers to participate, and each were asked to produce their submission in an edition of ten prints. Aside from Moholy, the roster and the titles were: Ansel Adams, Utah Farm, 1941; Berenice Abbott, Midtown, 1933; Walker Evans, Interior, Cape Cod, 1931; Helen Levitt, Tacubaya, Mexico City, 1941; Arnold Newman, Violins, 1941; Charles Sheeler, Bucks County Barn, 1915; Brett Weston, Ocean, 1939; and Edward Weston, Yosemite Snow, 1938.

The results of the exhibition were decidedly mixed. As might be expected, Abbott's view of Midtown, New York sold the most, at four prints. Only one print by Moholy was sold, and it is the print now offered here.

The purchaser of the print in 1941 was the thirty-one year-old director of Industrial Design at MoMA, Eliot Noyes (1910–1977), who had also been newly appointed to his role. A 1938 Master's candidate from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Noyes had studied at Harvard with Moholy's former Bauhaus colleagues, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. He was thus well-versed in Moholy's modern aesthetic of the 'New Vision'. Recommended for the museum position by Breuer and Gropius, Noyes held a two-year tenure at the museum, from 1940–1942, during which time he organized the first Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition and exhibition. He would go on to have an illustrious career as a master of corporate industrial design. He is well remembered for his career at IBM where he instituted America's premiere integrated corporate design system and, most notably, for designing the iconic Selectric typewriter in 1961.

In an era of world turmoil and a high influx of war scarred refugees, Moholy, director of the School of Design in Chicago, was a recent immigrant himself. For Newhall to have included him in an exhibition devoted specifically to American photographs must have been somewhat of a risk. In a letter from Newhall to Moholy, held in the Museum's exhibition files and dated January 14, 1942, the curator regrets that only one print sold and that he was shipping the remaining nine back to the artist.

Christie's is grateful to Susan Kismaric, for her assistance in the research into the history of this photograph in 1998, when this photograph was last offered at auction.

Other prints of this image reside in public collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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