In 1922, the first year he began to produce photograms with his wife Lucia, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy began to establish a vocabulary of forms for his camera-less light drawings by often employing materials related to his other artistic endeavors, such as objects readily at hand in the Bauhaus workshops at Dessau. Metal pins, translucent plastics and discs acted as light modulators, creating photographic forms related to the compositions of his painting and sculpture. These banal, unassuming objects were easily transformed in the photographic process to their magical and eerie negative images. The textile design and metalworking disciplines at the multifunctional design institute provided the raw elements needed to create the radical shadow drawings. Unlike Man Ray's "Rayographs" which reaped the poetic, narrative and autobiographical tendencies of Dada and then Surrealism, Moholy-Nagy's images are ephemeral, elliptical and often without clear reference as to which way one should properly view the new, confounding images. It was as if the explosive forms within the tiny confines of the picture denied the function of readability of the works, a political allusion perhaps to Moholy's early Socialist leanings. Asymmetrical and dynamic, all sides bore equal weight and responsibility to the picture. (See: Christie's New York, 8 April 1998, lot 292 for another example of one of his first photograms).
His first attempts were made on printing-out or "daylight" paper, a material that relied on the action of light falling on it to produce an image. This was contact printing paper, as opposed to enlargement stock, and did not require a darkroom or developing chemistry. Its characteristic chocolate tone is unique in Moholy's work. Just a year later he abandoned this technique by adopting the neutral tone enlarging papers with their wider variety of sizes and surfaces. Therefore, these early works are not only accurately dated but also extremely rare. Of the perhaps three dozen works executed in the period of 1922-23, the vast majority are in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum Folkwang, Essen; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Photographic History Collection of the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution and in the Julien Levy Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The unique fotogramm offered here is of distinguished provenance. Acquired by the present owner from William Larson, the former graduate student of Chicago's Institute of Design in 1966-67, it was exhibited broadly from 1975-79 in an exhibition devoted to Larson's collection. Larson, then chairman of the Photography School at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, acquired 75 pictures by Moholy-Nagy from a former printing assistant of the Bauhaus master. The works were highly regarded by the market when they appeared and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston immediately accessioned 26 examples. This is only the second time a work formerly from this highly important collection has appeared at auction, the first being the lot referenced above, sold at Christie's New York on April 8, 1998.