[Photograph of man with children.]  From- Katherine S. Dreier papers : Société Anonyme archive

László Moholy-Nagy and his vision

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You can download the 1969 translation of
László Moholy-Nagy’s Painting, Photography, Film (1927) by clicking on the embedded link. A while ago I posted some of Moholy’s work, but this is much more comprehensive. Otto Stelzer’s postscript to the 1967 reissue of the classic Bauhausbuch release appears below along with some examples of his films, photographs, and paintings.

Nearly out of space on my WordPress account. So I might have to set up a Paypal account and start soliciting donations. For now, though, enjoy.

Painting

Otto Stelzer
Janet Seligman
(March 1969)
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László Moholy-Nagy saw photography not only as a means of reproducing reality and relieving the painter of this function. He recognized its power of discovering reality. “The nature which speaks to the camera is a different nature from the one which speaks to the eye,” wrote Walter Benjamin years after Moholy had developed the experimental conditions for Benjamin’s theory. The other nature discovered by the camera influenced what Moholy, after he had emigrated, was to call The New Vision. It alters our insight into the real world. Much has happened in the meantime in this field and on a broader basis than Moholy could have foreseen. Painting, Photography, Film today exists as a new entity even in areas to which Moholy’s own creative desire could scarcely have led: for example, in the Neo-Realism of Bacon, Rivers, Warhol, Vostell and many others whose reality is no more than a second actuality produced by photography.

Moholy is one of those artists whose reputation continues to grow steadily after their death because their works have a prophetic action. Moholy always saw himself as a Constructivist but he passed quickly through the static Constructivism of his own time. In a few moves he opened a game which is being won today. His light-modulators, his “composition in moving colored light,” his leaf-paintings of the forties, represent the beginnings of a “kinetic art” — even the term is his — which is flourishing today. Op Art? Moholy did the essential spade-work of this school (the old expression is in order here) in 1942, even including the objective, important for Op artists, of a “use”: with his pupils in Chicago he had evolved studies for military camouflage. The display of these things, later mounted in the school of design by his collaborator and fellow Hungarian György Kepes, was at once the first Op exhibition, “Trompe l’oeil,” and its theoretical constituent. New materials? Moholy had been using celluloid, aluminium, plexiglass, and gallalith as early as the Bauhaus days. Modern typography? Moholy has influenced two generations of typographers. Even in the field of aesthetic theory Moholy found a new approach; its aim was a theory of information in art. Moholy enlisted pioneers of this now much discussed theory as long as twenty-five years ago, nominating Charles Morris, the authority on semantics, to a professorship at the New Bauhaus, Chicago and inviting Hayakawa, another semanticist to speak at his institute. In 1925, when the Bauhaus book now being re-issued first appeared, Moholy was regarded as a Utopian. That Moholy, this youthful radical, with his fanaticism and his boundless energy, radiated terror too, even among his colleagues at the Bauhaus, is understandable. “Only optics, mechanics, and the desire to put the old static painting out of action,” wrote Feininger to his wife at the time: “There is incessant talk of cinema, optics, mechanics, projection and continuous motion and even of mechanically produced optical transparencies, multicolored, in the finest colors of the spectrum, which can be stored in the same way as gramophone records” (Moholy’s “Domestic Pinacotheca,” p. 25). Is this the atmosphere in which painters like Klee and some others of us can go on developing? Klee was quite depressed yesterday when talking about Moholy.” Yet Feininger’s own transparent picture-space seems not wholly disconnected from Moholy’s light “displays.”

Pascal discovered in human behavior two attitudes of mind: “One is the geometric, the other that of finesse.” Gottfried Benn took this up and made the word “finesse,” difficult enough to translate already, even more obscure. “The separation, therefore, of the scientific from the sublime world…the world which can be verified to the point of confirmatory neurosis and the world of isolation which nothing can make certain.” The attitudes which Pascal conceived of as being complementary and connected are now separated. The harmonization of the two attitudes of mind to which the art of classical periods aspired is abandoned. The conflict between the Poussinistes and the followers of Rubens, conducted flexibly from the 17th to the 19th century, became a war of positions with frozen fronts.

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The Bauhaus carried on the conflict until the parties retired: on the one side the sublime: Klee, Feininger, Itten, and Kandinsky too, whose “nearly” Constructivist paintings still reminded Moholy of “underwater landscapes’; on the other “geometricians” with Moholy at their head (“forms of the simplest geometry as a step towards objectivity’), his pupils and the combatants, Malevich, El Lissitzky, Mondrian, Van Doesburg, all closely connected with the Bauhaus. On the one side the “lyrical I” (in Benn’s sense), on the other the collectivists, “one in the spirit” with science, social system and architecture, as Moholy formulated it in a Bauhaus lecture in 1923.

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Afrofuturism, Aaron Douglas, and W.E.B. Du Bois (1920s-1930s)

artstor_103_41822000904639Study for %22Aspects of Negro Life- An Idyll of the Deep South%22 (1934), tempera on paper, by Aaron DouglasAaron Douglas, Aspects of Negro Life- From Slavery to the Reconstruction, 1934. Harlem Renaissancepicture49-142E3580479301EA0AA

Lanre Bakare writes in The Guardian that “[a] new generation of artists [is] exploring afrofuturism. OutKast and Janelle Monáe take the philosophy to the mainstream, while Flying Lotus and Shabazz Palaces push jazz and hip-hop to their extremes.” He traces its musical lineage as follows:

The ’50s and ’60s were dominated by the free jazz and avant-garde work of Sun Ra and his Arkestra, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Don Cherry, and Alice Coltrane, with some psychedelic input from Jimi Hendrix and Love. The ’70s and ’80s were when George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic and Prince sent funk to outer space and dub innovators such as King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry beamed out cosmic signals from Jamaica. The ’90s saw a renaissance and reimagining of Afrofuturism in hip-hop (OutKast, Kool Keith’s Dr Octagon alias, and RZA), neo-soul (Erykah Badu) and techno (specifically Detroit producers such as Drexciya), with all embracing the philosophy and giving it their own distinctive edge.

If Bakare’s right, things must be looking up. Though I’m by no means an afrofuturist connoisseur, I love Miles Davis, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix. Plus, Flying Lotus’ 2010 record Cosmogramma was great. As far as cinematic afrofuturism is concerned, I’m a longtime fan of John Sayles’ Brother from another Planet (1979).

Bakare devotes most of his article to an examination of music and film, so we may forgive him for neglecting to mention the great afrofuturist art that was made in the first half of the twentieth century. This post might go some way in correcting his omission.

Of all the great figures from that period, the Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas stands apart. Raymond E. Jackson and select others deserve some recognition, but no one approaches Douglas. I’d almost describe it as deco-futurism with a heavy emphasis on African symbolism and history, at least as he understood it. Douglas first began to be noticed for his illustrated covers to W.E.B. Du Bois’ “chronicle of the darker races,” The Crisis. At that time in the mid-’20s, the journal had a discernibly Marxist political bent (in keeping with Du Bois’ own views).

He also did some work for Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. Later he was commissioned to do murals at a number of clubs and universities in Chicago and New York. These are truly stunning; they use a whole range of colors to achieve a deeply atmosphere effect. In this post you can see some of his work, or read more about his life via Wikipedia.

index (5) 9Aspiration Aaron Douglas Harriet Tubman Mural at Bennett College, Greensboro, North Carolina 1 Continue reading

Chashnik circle cross

Il’ia Chashnik, revolutionary suprematist (1902-1929)

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Il’ia Grigorievich Chashnik was born to an unremarkable Jewish family in Lyucite, Latvia on June 20, 1902. He spent most of his childhood in Vitebsk, leaving school at the age of eleven to work in a small watchmaking workshop.

From 1917 to 1919, Chashnik studied art with the local artist Iurii (Yehuda) Pen before moving to Moscow in 1919 to attend the newly-opened VKhUTEMAS [Higher State Art and Technical Studios]. Just a few months later, however, he transferred to the Vitebsk Art Institute in order to study under the Russian-Jewish folk painter and avant-gardist Marc Chagall. Soon he became enamored of the work of Kazimir Malevich, the mastermind of Suprematism. Malevich also happened to teach at the Institute, before receiving a promotion and taking it over during the winter of 1919-1920. El Lissitzky also mentored Chashnik briefly before departing to Western Europe.

Once his apprenticeship under Malevich began, Chashnik’s paintings underwent a radical change. Chashnik cultivated his own distinctive style within the Suprematist idiom, developing Malevich’s ideas of abstraction and non-figuration to produce floating geometric shapes with crossing planes. While Malevich composed white-on-white paintings wrapped in fragile stillness and simplicity, Chashnik moved toward more dynamic pieces where black was the predominant element.

David Walsh of the World Socialist Website described the young painter’s unique talents with considerable eloquence in a review he wrote of The Great Utopia exhibition of 1993, which featured some of Chashnik’s work. Walsh wrote:

Chashnik’s The Seventh Dimension: Suprematist and his Color Lines in Vertical Motion demonstrate an enormous talent. His Cosmos — Red Circle on Black Surface (1925), for example, is an extraordinary work. A giant red circle (sun, planet) hovers in blackness (sky, atmosphere). Under it on the painting’s surface floats a Suprematist-like structure (space station), lines and rectangles arranged horizontally across a central bar. The Suprematist craft — delicate, outweighed, pale in color — is seemingly directed toward the gigantic, perfect red sphere. The enormity of the task, the terrifying emptiness of the universe, the flimsiness of the vessel, are clear to the viewer.

Along with some other talented students of Malevich’s class — Nikolai Suetin, Vera Ermolaeva, and Lev Iudin — Chashnik participated in the organization of the group POSNOVIS [Followers of the New Art], later renamed UNOVIS [Affirmers of the New Art], contributing to all of its exhibitions. He became particularly close with Suetin, a friendship and creative partnership that would endure until the former’s untimely passing in 1929.

Even further, while still in Vitebsk, Chashnik helped Malevich draft the syllabus for the Department of Architecture and Technology at Vitebsk in 1921. There he explained:

The constructions of Suprematism are blueprints for the building and assembling of forms of utilitarian organisms.Consequently, any Suprematist project is Suprematism extended into functionality. The Department of Architecture and Technology is the builder of new forms of utilitarian Suprematism; as it develops, it is changing into a huge workshop-laboratory, not with the pathetic little workbenches and paints in departments of painting, but with electric machines for casting, with all kinds of apparatuses, with the technological wealth of magnetic forces. [This department works] in concert with astronomers, engineers, and mechanics to attain a single Suprematism, to build organisms of Suprematism — a new form of economics in the utilitarian system of modernity.

When local authorities forced UNOVIS out of Vitebsk in 1922, Chashnik, Suetin, Ermolaeva, and Iudin followed Malevich to join the GINKhUK in Petrograd. Throughout the Petrograd/Leningrad period, Chashnik spent his days exploring possible applications of Suprematist art to everyday life.

Creative product photography, catalog and web-site photography Creative product photography, catalog and web-site photography Architektonisches Projekt, 1926-1927. Bewegung der Farbe, 1921-1922. Suprematistische Komposition, 1922-1923 Continue reading

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Bauhausbücher covers, № I-XIV (1925-1930)

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Below are the covers to the books in the Bauhausbücher series, № 1-14.

  1. Walter Gropius, Internationale Architektur. Bauhausbücher 1, München 1925
  2. Paul Klee, Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch. Bd. 2, München 1925
  3. Adolf Meyer, Ein Versuchshaus des Bauhauses in Weimar. Bd. 3, München, 1925
  4. Oskar Schlemmer, Die Bühne im Bauhaus. Bd. 4, München 1925
  5. Piet Mondrian, Neue Gestaltung. Neoplastizismus. Bd. 5, Eschwege 1925
  6. Theo van Doesburg, Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst. Bd. 6, München 1925
  7. Walter Gropius, Neue Arbeiten der Bauhauswerkstaetten. Bd. 7, München 1925
  8. Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, Malerei, Fotografie, Film. Bd. 8, München 1925
  9. Wassily Kandinsky, Punkt und Linie zur Fläche: Beitrag zur Analyse der malerischen Elemente. Bd. 9, München, 1926
  10. Jan Peter Oud, Holländische Architektur, Bd. 10, München 1926
  11. Kasimir Malewitsch, Die gegenstandslose Welt, Bd. 11, München 1927
  12. Walter Gropius, Bauhausbauten Dessau. Bd. 12, München 1928
  13. Albert Gleizes, Kubismus. Bd. 13, München 1928
  14. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Von Material zu Architektur. Bd. 14, 1929

Enjoy.

Bauhausbucher1200252.w.1280bauhausbucher 3867502_4_lLászló Moholy-Nagy Bauhaus Books No. 5- %22Neoplasticism%22 by Piet Mondrian, 1925bauhausbucher 6Bauhausbucher 7bauhausbucher 8 moholy-nagyBauhausbucher 9 Kandinsky8868072_1_lBauhausbucher 11 MalewitschLászló Moholy-Nagy Bauhaus Books No. 12- %22Bauhaus Buildings, Dessau%22 by Walter Gropius, 1930Bauhausbucher 13laszlo_moholy-nagy-dust_jackets_for_2_of_the_series_of_14_bauhaus_books-19291317188312990moholy-nagy-brochure_cover_for_the_series_of_fourteen_bauhaus_books-19291317188247231

Joost Schmidt, Mechanical stage design, 1925-1926, Ink and tempera on paper, 64 x 44 cm1a

Bauhaus color

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Here are some hard-to-find color renderings by Bauhaus students (Herbert Bayer, Farkas Molnár, Joost Schmidt, Peter Keler), with text by Tadeusz Peiper.
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At the Bauhaus

Tadeusz Peiper
(1927)

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Bauhaus, the one in Dessau. So, off to Dessau. Three hours by passenger train from Berlin. We’re already there by 5 p.m. Even the feet on the stairs in the hallway of the station make it clear we’re in the provinces. But not in the Prussian provinces. Prussian towns differ only in the size of their population, not in their essence. There is almost no trace of Berlin left here. We are in the capital of the duchy of Anhalt. Small one- and two-story houses, almost like those in the Szweska district of Cracow or in the Elektoralna district in Warsaw. Around the city tall red smokestacks shoot up. We are in one of central Germany’s coal-mining centers.

A café. Frankfurters. Malevich has three cups of tea. Call Kandinsky, not home. Stop in front of every lighted store window. Sighs of longing from Malevich at overcoats, tablecloths, and suitcases. We pretend to purchase a bed. Call Kandinsky, still not home. Back into the street. Damned rain.

No time to lose. Call Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus. We go into a cafe. I call. He’s home! He is very pleased, offers us to let us spend the night at his home, drives up to the cafe in the director’s car. A noble face, veiled in fatigue, hardened by truth.

We are at his place. Entry hall. A wall that consists of a thin, sandy cloth curtain behind which stands — as we will see the following day — the dining room, which is directly connected to the kitchen, with a sliding window between the two. Continue reading

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PROUN

The “way station” between
painting and architecture

Untitled.
Image: El Lissitzky,
PROUN 1-C (1919)

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From “Theses on the PROUN: From painting to architecture” (1920)

Not world-illusion
but world-reality

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We have named PROUN a station on the path to the construction of the new form. […] From being a simple depicter the artist becomes a creator (builder) of forms for a new world — the world of objectivity. This does not mean the creation of a rivalry with the engineer. Art has not yet crossed paths with science.

2. PROUN is understood as the creative construction of form (based on the mastery of space) assisted by economic construction of the applied material. The goal of PROUN is progressive movement on the way to concrete creation, and not the substantiation, explanation, or promotion of life.

The path of the PROUN does not lie within the narrowly limited, fragmented, and isolated scientific disciplines — the builder consolidates them all together in his own experimental investigation.

The path of the PROUN is not the incoherent approach of separate scientific disciplines, theories, and systems, but is rather the straightforward path of learned influence over reality. […]

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Le Corbusier painting in the nude at Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027

Plus, the story behind
his nasty leg scar

Untitled.
Image: Le Corbusier painting a fresco in the nude
at Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027 (Summer 1939)

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Shirtless Corbu relaxing at Villa E-1027

Shirtless Corbu relaxing at Villa E-1027

I didn’t know about this until just now.Le Corbusier apparently got the scar while swimming in Saint-Tropez bay in 1938. He’d been staying at the architect Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027. He got trapped under a yacht’s propeller-blades as it passed over him. As he lated recounted the incident in a letter to his mother, in his characteristically clinical tone:

The motor going at 200 horsepower — a good clip.

Le Corbusier in Saint-Tropez bay (1938)

Le Corbusier in Saint-Tropez bay (1938)

Needless to say, his right leg got terribly mangled. Apparently he remained remarkably calm, however, even while losing a ton of blood. From that same letter:

After the first turn of the blades, I was thrown out of the circuit and seemed not to have been hurt. I reached the surface, and breathed air. I hadn’t swallowed a drop of water. I saw the boat gliding slowly away. I shouted: “Hey, wait a second, you went right over me, there may be some damage!” Quite automatically my hand went to my right thigh, my arm fitting nicely inside. I looked down: a big area of blood-red water, and half my thigh floating like a ray (the fish!), attached by a narrow strip of flesh: “Throw me a buoy, I’m badly hurt.”

The yacht headed toward me, throwing me a sort of rope knot too big to be held in one hand. The side of the yacht was too high for anyone to help me. “Throw a lifesaver.” It comes, and I sit inside it. And here are some fishermen coming into port; their boat is low, they hold out their hands, and I give them my left hand, because I’m holding my thigh together with my right; we reach the place I started from, on the breakwater; I get up on the jetty; a kind driver appears out of nowhere and helps me sit down beside him. The fisherman gets in the backseat. Hospital. They put me on the table and begin sewing me together. This lasts from six to midnight, in two sessions.

Le Corbusier and his wife along with Romanian architectural critic Jean Badovici at Villa E-1027, photographed by the Irish modernist Eileen Gray

Le Corbusier & wife w/ Romanian architecture critic Jean Badovici at Villa E-1027, photographed by Irish modernist Eileen Gray

After recovering, Le Corbusier set about making some “alterations” to Gray’s design at Villa E-1027. Gray was none too happy about the liberties he took with her visual and conceptual schematization of the villa. You can read more about it here.