Joyce Tsai

  • László Moholy-Nagy, A II (Construction A II), 1924, oil and graphite on canvas, 45 5/8 × 53 3/4". © Hattula Maholy-Nagy/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present”

    This traveling survey of the renowned Bauhaus artist’s oeuvre will be the first retrospective of his work in the United States since the museum last hosted one in 1969. The earlier show emphasized his effusive embrace of technology and his capacity to think and work in gleeful disregard of any notion of medium specificity, which resonated powerfully with a generation of artists attempting to free themselves from the confines of modernist painting. Perhaps as a mark of how influential this attitude has been in decades since, the intermediality that once seemed so radical

  • László Moholy-Nagy, soldier looking through periscope, ca. 1915–19, colored pencil and pencil on paper, 5 3/8 × 3 1/2".  © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.


    LÁSZLÓ MOHOLY-NAGY made us look, and look again. The Bauhaus pioneer was one of the most ardent advocates of new ways of seeing, embracing an art that could—like city lights, X-rays, telephony—radically reconfigure our sensory experience of the world. But this aesthetic upheaval, this New Vision, as Moholy-Nagy called it, came from an unlikely place: the battlefield. Following a landmark exhibition of the artist’s paintings at California’s Santa Barbara Museum of Art, curated by scholar JOYCE TSAI, and in advance of a major retrospective opening in June 2016 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Tsai reflects here on Moholy-Nagy’s formative years as a soldier during World War I—an experience that would irrevocably shape his lifelong engagement with visual technologies to come.

    In 1922 I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory’s color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper, divided into squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position. (It was like playing chess by correspondence.)1

    IN 1944, László Moholy-Nagy wrote these few brief remarks about the origin of his Konstruktionen in Emaille (Constructions in Enamel), 1923, commonly known as Telephone Pictures. The account appeared in a posthumous