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.