László Moholy-Nagy was born 1895 in Bácsborsód, Austria-Hungary. He attended Gymnasium in the city of Szeged. Before and during World War I he studied law in Budapest, where he became involved with the journal Jelenkor (“The Present Age”) and with the circle around Lajos Kassák’s journal Ma (“Today”). After his discharge from the Austro-Hungarian army in October 1918, he attended the private art school of the Hungarian artist Róbert Berény. He left for Vienna in 1919 and moved to Berlin in 1920. In Berlin, he met El Lissizky and became influenced by Russian Constructivism. In 1922, he started working with photograms, photographic images made without camera.
On the invitation of Walter Gropius in 1923, Moholy-Nagy replaced Johannes Itten as the instructor of the foundation course at the Bauhaus in Weimar (1923–1925) and Dessau (1925–1928), where he taught alongside Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Josef Albers and worked in the fields of photography, typography, sculpture, painting, printmaking and design. He coined the term “the New Vision” for his belief that photography could create a whole new way of seeing the world. He was photography editor of the Dutch avant-garde magazine International Revue i 10 from 1927 to 1929. He resigned from the Bauhaus in 1928 and worked in Berlin, designing stage sets, exhibitions and books, creating ad campaigns, writing articles and making films. For Moholy-Nagy, the ability of a work of art to create something new was a key criterion. He postulated for painting, photography and film a moral and aesthetic imperative: the New.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they closed the Bauhaus. Moholy-Nagy fled to Holland, and in 1935 went to London. Gropius and Moholy-Nagy planned to establish an English version of the Bauhaus but did not succeed, and Moholy-Nagy was turned down for a teaching job at the Royal College of Art. In 1937, at the invitation of Walter Paepcke, the Chairman of the Container Corporation of America, Moholy-Nagy moved to Chicago to become the director of the New Bauhaus. The school closed in 1938, but Paepcke continued his support. In 1939, Moholy-Nagy opened the School of Design, which in 1944 became the Institute of Design and in 1949 became part of the Illinois Institute of Technology. László Moholy-Nagy died in Chicago in 1946. The Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest is named in his honour.
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