PRINT February 1978

Chicago Dialectic

WHEN THE STAATLICHE BAUHAUS, founded in 1919 at Weimar by Walter Gropius, was ultimately closed by the Nazis, it had a second chance in Chicago. On June 6, 1937, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the former Bauhaus master of the Advanced Foundation Course and a chief proponent of Constructivism, received a wire from a group of prominent Chicago business people which called itself the Association of Arts and Industries.1 Moholy had been recommended by Gropius, then a Harvard professor, whose own ideas during Germany’s post-World War I brief period of identity-seeking had been complemented by Moholy-Nagy’s espousal of pure geometric form as a means of true, basic, clean, association-free communication.2 Sibyl Moholy-Nagy cautioned her husband that these Midwestern industrialists sounded as bad as the German generals.3 But since resigning from the original Bauhaus in 1928, Moholy had been without a home, and now he was wondering how long he could stay in England designing store displays and making posters for preshrunk shirts.4 In Chicago the AAI had decided that the Midwest was the logical and appropriate place for an industrial design school,5 along Bauhaus lines, whose graduates could be counted upon to give “eye appeal to products which were getting sales resistance . . . because they were unattractive.”6 Moholy himself, since childhood, had envisioned the skyscrapers of America as the symbol of greatness and power.7

For the record: the “New Bauhaus,” a not-for-profit corporation, opened a school by that name in Chicago, with Moholy-Nagy as director, on October 18, 1937. It was located at 1905 North Prairie Avenue, the former family home of the merchant Marshall Field II, a member of the AAI. Some nine months after the school was born the AAI decided it didn’t want it. Moholy’s staff, and next Moholy, found their salaries unpaid;8 at the beginning of the school’s second year 80 new students were waiting to enroll, but the doors were closed.9 Moholy had signed a five-year contract.10 but now the AAI alleged stock market reverses,11 and at the 35th Street Warehouse of the Cook County Circuit Court, File No. 38C14366 tells a story of the AAI claiming that Laszlo Moholy-Nagy lacked “poise, balance, diplomacy, patience, and teaching experience”; that he copied other people’s ideas; that he used AAI materials to work for other companies when he ought to have been giving lectures at the New Bauhaus; that he diverted funds; that he “alienated people, firms, and corporations”; created unrest, dissension, and turmoil among the students; “undermined” the school’s effectiveness; and “destroyed public confidence in the AAI.”12 A courageous move was thus completely and ridiculously destroyed. The case was dismissed, presumably with an out-of-court settlement, but Moholy and the industrialists parted ways.

Apart from these unfortunate details, some other things should be said about the general “lay” scene in which Laszlo Moholy-Nagy now suddenly found himself. In late-1930s Chicago a Mrs. Frank G. Logan, whose husband had endowed the Art Institute of Chicago with the Logan medal (to be given in the yearly “Chicago and Vicinity” show), railed against that “monster of distortion” in modern art.13 In 1936 she founded the Chicago-based Society for Sanity in Art, which, with several Midwestern branches, was actively mounting “Sane Art” exhibitions that were notable for their promise to show painting in which “An Onion Is Really An Onion.”14 Among the artists approved by the Sane Society were the WPA workers, whose scenes reminisced of the American Dream—along with Renaissance fresco painting—and they notified Moholy at a union meeting15 that their art was fundamental and devoid of personality poison, that it erased the delusions which had made for social guilt. In contrast, no one could possibly understand the modernist’s ridiculous overlapping layers, space-time articulations, ideas about purity, and simultaneously viewed outsides and insides, and who was he anyway to come over here and say that he knew what was good for the masses—with his bifocal glasses and professorial grin?

Later, at Moholy’s school, it was often European craftsmen attending night courses who would attack the Bauhaus-type projects as crazy fancies. They claimed that machine tools should be admired for doing what they always had done, not for turning out strange one-piece chairs;16 and, predictably, questions soon were raised in the public press acknowledging Moholy’s fine intentions but asking whether “foreign culture” should be transplanted here.17

In any case, the idealistic Moholy decided to continue in Chicago. He housed his bewildered but loyal staff in his own apartment and set about founding a new school. He convinced the instructors to teach without pay for one year, supported himself on catalogue design for Spiegel’s mail order house, and soon was mesmerizing 18 eager students. It was under a tap-dance rehearsal room at the old Chez Paree nightclub, 247 East Ontario, that the students heard Charles W. Morris, one of several interested University of Chicago professors, give free lectures on “Intellectual Integration,” a nonspecialized course developed especially for the school.18 At the same time they were receiving a “conditioning to creativity”19 by studying a wire-and-glass assemblage that had been joined without a third material, first for its properties of modulating shadow and light, then as a textural study for precise drawing, then as a fledgling ashtray project, and so on. No matter that the outside world was enervating its own capacities and narrowing its vision, the graduates of Moholy’s school would be able to grapple with the social, technological, economic, moral and esthetic sides of every question.20 Sibyl Moholy-Nagy reported that the staff and students had to clean out the space themselves, and that the cockroaches were huge.21 Yet the School of Design—the Bauhaus name having been dropped because of its by then fitful associations22—was to continue with its committee of moral supporters (Julian Huxley, Alfred H. Barr, Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and others) from February 22, 1939 until 1944.

Staatliche Bauhaus had aimed to be self-supporting on industrial commissions. Gropius wanted the Bauhaus creations to be sold as prototype products which industry would then mass produce and market.23 Not only would the antihuman effects of mass production be offset by the Bauhaus designs, which would reflect “organic, basic, functional structure,”24 but, by collaborating with industry, the school would be committed to facing reality rather than closed off in an ivory tower world.25 In this same vein Moholy did keep his school involved with reality, offering wartime courses in camouflage, therapy for disabled veterans, and blueprint-reading for women. Special products were designed in response to government, medical, and commercial commissions, including wooden springs, restaurant menus, transparent plastic helmets to protect farm workers from overexposure to the sun, means for quickly repairing bullet holes in damaged U.S. bombers, and an oven made from a trash can that could bake a chicken in 23 minutes.26 All of this brought lots of publicity, lots of equipment,27 and even a little money to the school.

By 1944 Moholy felt strong enough to take on another board of industrialists, this time under the chairmanship of Walter A. Paepcke, the only former member of the Association of Arts and Industries who had remained supportive of the school.28 This very same school, whose name was changed to the Institute of Design, now moved to 1009 North State, and in 1946 the board raised funds to purchase a “permanent home” at the former Chicago Historical Society Building, 632 North Dearborn. But in 1945 Moholy was discovered to have leukemia, and on November 24, 1946, he died.

Certain historical parallels between Moholy’s school(s) in Chicago and the original Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau should be noted briefly. When the first attempted Chicago Bauhaus was dissolved, the Association of Arts and Industries had tried to get out by exactly the same excuse that the Thuringian government had used at Weimar: budget problems.29 The letter of solidarity that staff and students presented to Moholy after the New Bauhaus closed in Chicago30 markedly resembled the letter of protest dated January 13, 192531 addressed to the Government of Thuringia by members of the Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar. Gropius had asked the teachers at Dessau to sacrifice 10 percent of their salaries;32 in Chicago Moholy asked them for one year with no pay. Support for the German school sometimes floundered on the charge that it merely duplicated the services of other German technical schools, while in Chicago people sometimes avoided giving their support by claiming that Moholy’s school was merely a duplication of the School of the Art Institute.33 Something of the Bauhaus relation to industry did persist, in that companies could make tax-deductible contributions to the Chicago school in return for design services.34

Today, outside Chicago, the name “Chicago Bauhaus” is sometimes taken as a catch phrase for the kind of design course taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology, while the story of Moholy-Nagy in Chicago has amounted to little more than casual remembrance and hearsay. Actually, the story turns to IIT only when Serge Chermeyev replaced Moholy-Nagy as director of the then still independent Institute of Design in 1947. Still housed on Dearborn Street, the school, as always, was having trouble paying its bills; according to Paepcke, the deficit was between $30,000 and $75,000, an amount that had been hard to finance even when Moholy’s ability was the number one selling point.35 Now things were really tough. Chermeyev was no diplomat; he had no patience with former Moholyites, those “self-appointed saviors upon whom the mantle of Moholy descended” who constantly deprecated changes in the school.36 Meanwhile, anything someone else did was wrong because no one knew if Moholy would have approved.

But Chermeyev did want to see the school go on,37 and, with Paepcke, in 1948, he approached that great Chicago edifice devoted to intellectual freedom, Robert Hutchins’ University of Chicago, asking if a school concerned with creative freedom might find a home there. But Hutchins told them, “Art has no room in a university.”38 Then they turned to the Illinois Institute of Technology, a private university in Chicago centered on technology and its relation to society. President Henry T. Heald said “Welcome,” and in 1949, with Chermeyev carrying a many-paged prospectus for the continuation of the Institute of Design’s basic learning structure within the larger framework of IIT39 in his hand (the friends of the ID meanwhile jeering that the relationship was doomed) the Institute of Design and IIT merged. Every year at Halloween on IIT’s campus the Institute of Design students still send out invitations, paste up posters, don “Moholy Masks” and celebrate a bizarre Resurrection of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, followed by a wedding with Moholy and an all-night “Deception.”40 The Institute of Design today is just a standard university department with the usual sort of contemporary design courses that students are channeled into everywhere. A study of school catalogues from 1951 to 1977 shows the gradual leveling of anything unique that might have been left over from the earlier days.

Serge Chermeyev had resigned in 1951 after his “continued basic learning structure” almost disappeared without a trace. What he’d wanted was an ID with its own identity within IIT, including an ability to reinvest money into itself from project grants, but the larger school refused.41 Architecture, which Moholy and the Staatliche Bauhaus itself had seen as the “common denominator of all planning,”42 was also dropped from the Institute of Design program because IIT already had a fine Department of Architecture under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who had come to Chicago in 193843 and who, in fact, planned the IIT campus in 1941. Besides, whereas Moholy had intended the foundation course as a test of student capacity for creative work44—and would personally dismiss any students who could not deal with it45—IIT insisted that prospective ID students take the standard college entrance examinations, which Chermeyev, in true Moholian spirit, claimed “evaluated the typical at the expense of the exceptional” with “excessively mechanistic, intellectual, and typewritten standards.”46"

Nostalgia for Bauhaus integrative ideals notwithstanding, perhaps one can say that I IIT’s present mode of specialized design training is realistically suited to the role of a designer engaged in capitalist commercial product design. As Moholy was to realize late in life, “Advertisers hire artists to advertise advertising.”47 “Anyway, what corporation wants an artist or designer—as Moholy did—critically to untangle the vital strands of social life and mesh them into a compelling sensate fabric?”48 A conscientious Moholyite would have refused to design a package because the contents were bad, while one of the weak or commercially minded directors after Chermeyev is rumored to have said, “I would put shit on a refrigerator if I thought that it would sell refrigerators.”

Yet the influence of Moholy-Nagy was not lost on Chicago, especially in the fine arts. Recently two Chicago critics, Jane Allen and Derek Guthrie, have pointed out that the reason why Abstract Expressionism never really flourished there was that abstract art in Chicago descends in the Moholy-Nagy tradition.49 The principles expressed in Moholy’s comprehensive workshops have thus continued in painting. The best Bauhaus-Look work currently being produced in Chicago is neither mannered nor superficial; it is both experimental and strong.50 Sometimes this has been the result of an artist’s association with a former Moholyite, or with a former student of some former Moholyite, but, in any case, it does evidence contact with the philosophies underlying the design.51 Usually nowadays such associations develop at the art department of the Circle Campus of the University of Illinois, where, since the 1950s, the largest number of Bauhaus-type artists has been concentrated.

In other cases, the Bauhaus look has been the result of a sort of visual osmosis from the particular “look” of Chicago, a look which, interestingly enough, is often specifically Miesian. Now Moholy and Mies were not buddies.52 While surrounded by Mies’ splendid brick, glass and steel IIT campus architecture, Chermeyev himself could not understand why the school administration thought that Mies and the Institute of Design “stood for the same thing.”53 Hadn’t the Bauhaus under Mies been essentially an architectural office which threatened to curtail or eliminate art courses,54 as opposed to Moholy’s laboratory for the comprehension of techniques and the qualities of various media? In Chicago, although Moholy’s school and Mies’ Department of Architecture were only 15 minutes apart, there was no communication between the two,55 perhaps because, as Walter Gropius wrote, “I think that Mies just does not do what we try to develop in the Bauhaus; namely to make his teaching background objective rather than personal. He is too much the tyrant teacher who wants to impose himself instead of help the student along within his, the student’s, own framework.”56 And yet Moholy and Mies did indeed have many important mutually complementary and reinforcing ideas about art, especially ideas of objectivity, structural clarity, function and simplicity, the economical use of materials, avoidance of cultic symbols, and the legitimatization of technology as subject matter.57

Today, for example, many artists working in Chicago with a common Miesian and Moholian inspiration rely on a straightforward technological esthetic. In photography, Joseph Jachna recombines the planes of Miesian buildings and Bauhaus-Look sculpture into geometries organized around a central axis; his compositions rise logically from large units at the base to smaller units at the top, and light is used to bring out hard-edge silhouettes or to appear like rows of perforations. Kenneth Josephson takes a picture of a woman taking a picture, then later bluntly pastes the picture the woman took onto his photograph of her taking it.

Lyn Blumenthal takes pictures of long aluminum slats that refract light from video monitors, gallery fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows, and then displays these photos as patterns of light movement. At the same time, actual aluminum slats provide a real-time demonstration of what the photos recorded.

Catherine DeJong’s videotapes show specific structural movements being performed by more than one person, movements later shown on two monitors, in which time lapse and image processing change the performers and movements into a single flowing pattern. In each case, technology is no faceless facilitator; as in Moholy’s photograms and Mies’ skeletal buildings the machine is as much a matter of content as it is of form.

Another “edict” common to Moholy and Mies was that the form should express the material. In keeping with this, John Henry’s modular outdoor sculpture is a celebration of steel—its durability, rigidity, weldability, and its possibilities for great spans. His pieces deal with the problem of visual appearance in the light effects of different times of day. Larry Salomon’s recent sculpture is a celebration of malleable aluminum cut and bent away from the wall, mechanically fastened and brushed with a texture that only non-rusting aluminum could retain. The structural properties change from the flat sheet to the three-dimensional form, yet Salomon’s work is designed as an object in one piece, with no waste from each single 7-foot sheet. Dennis Kowalski demonstrates the properties of one material in relation to another: the warm grain of wood near the opaque luster of asphalt, or the lightness of thick aluminum cylinders balanced on the denseness of thin steel wires. Kowalski’s gallery installations divide a cubic space into masses with slabs of industrial and natural materials. Here the materials themselves are so attuned to the manner of working that each project could be properly evaluated, as if in terms of physics, for “proportion of effort to effect.”

Like the art of Mies and Moholy, much Chicago visual art banishes ornament. That the look of the work can be effectively derived from the elements that compose it is demonstrated, for example, by Frank Pannier’s painting, which relies on transparencies and translucencies, positive texture runs and negative surface fissures, in single colors of paint mixed to controlled proportions with particular additives. For Pannier the major expressive device becomes reflective light. This feature also distinguishes Andrea Blum’s installations, whose components—cinderblock, felt, sand, glass and other materials—take on an elegance from their regularity of line, plane and volume. Blum arranges spotlights strategically to bring out the various materials, their natural colors and advancing and receding planes. In Mary Stoppert’s sculpture color is used not for emotional properties, but as part of a rational counterpoint: Stoppert paints her receding frameworks progressively lighter and her advancing forms progressively darker, while the space inside each linear framework is continuous with the outside surrounding gallery. Other examples include Mary Jo Marks’ light-modulating natural canvases, in which torn fragments and threads plucked loose from the mesh establish a rhythm in the way surfaces are turned toward the light, or Harold Allen’s photographs, where the visual variations of a window sash, a brick wall or a filmy curtain separate what amount to rectangles in an overall facade, each print showing clear structural frames. In every case the innate sensuousness of the design components provides the variation on a very orderly theme.

It is true that none of this Bauhaus-Look art intends, in Moholian terms, to transform society into happy harmony or, in Miesian terms, to demonstrate the objective foundation of the true modern industrial order. This art is an end in itself and, unlike social dreams or concrete buildings, it can be aptly contained on an easel or in a studio or museum. But such art still does carry on Moholy’s idea of what the form of a design should do, even as it discounts his notion of what the function of the artist/designer should be.

As it stands, then, much visual art in Chicago is preoccupied with basic form and rational organization. And yet, as in the Staatliche Bauhaus, where “a compensation for the overemphasis on rational organization . . . activated powers of the spirit,”58 so too in Chicago, there has been an antithesis to the Bauhaus Look, a radically subjective kind of art that has been taken as a battle cry for hermetic self-involvement.59 Some New Bauhaus students had freely challenged Moholy’s desire for a union with society and complained that any private art of subjective inclination was a matter “treated as something to be pursued outside the school environment.”“ This opinion was reminiscent of an earlier division in Weimar when Johannes Itten, the ”mystical keeper of fasts,“ was replaced by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the ”man of exact calculations,“61 and when the old Bauhaus simultaneously harbored painting which ”reveled in dreams, visions, and blunt confessions of the soul“ and workshops that ”stressed a functional and structural straightforwardness."62

Chicago’s “Ittens” have been around since at least the 1940s, claiming clamorously that the Bauhaus Look is establishment-oriented, rigid, puritanical, and dull. This dichotomy was described in 1961 by Franz Schulze as the “pre-rationalites vs. the purist abstractionists.” While the latter, he said, exhibited “excessive pictorial hygiene,” “cosmopolitan facelessness,” and the “limitations” of a painting which “in its heart of hearts was meant to be realistic,” the artists who made up the new “Fantastic Imagery” showed a “lack of constraint,” “hometown eccentricity,” and an art which “addressed the eye before the brain.”63 Typically for Chicago, much of this controversy shows ignorance of the Bauhaus tradition, even though an understanding of the “funky” side of Chicago visual art is incomplete without knowing what it was reacting against.

For example, in much Fantastic Imagery art, unless one senses that a social convention is being toyed with, one will miss the point. When Karl Wirsum paints a big red-mouthed woman with whirling corkscrew breasts, in flickering oranges, greens, reds, yellows and blues, with a background that advances and a foreground that recedes, he is playing with cliched attitudes toward woman. To ask about an actual person would inject an element of seriousness, an affirmation that the individual “sitter” is important, an issue that is absent in Fantastic Imagery,64 where “urgency” or “seriousness” become words with which to joke or pun. Similarly, Ed Paaschke overlays a bleeding heart of Jesus on a dayglo painting of a sideshow freak—an intuitive use of symbols which might imply to any viewer that in our society symbols have come together in a meaningless, valueless, defiled and useless way. As is frequent in this art style, the painter exhibits a kind of “irreverence” which, rather insightfully satirizing convention, simply passively (and even joyously) displays a common attitude by which conventions have become debased and revelation is taken as a sort of party game.

Moholy had written that artists should participate in, guide and coordinate society; but these antithetical artists fill out society’s lower-pitched expectation that the artist be a little nuts, a little strange, a little out of control. Paul Lamantia’s interweaving lines and claustrophobic compositions at some point or other make a statement about evil, greedy people—his intertwining lines happening to turn into Amazons who suck each other, vainly look in mirrors, or steal one another’s telephones. And Henry Darger’s recently discovered work spins out a vast mythology of the world’s Good and Evil. His heartfelt juxtapositions of Bible imagery, mine explosions, little girls in 1930s fashions, mythological monsters, soldiers wearing mortarboards, and double-sexed figures relate to not only the diary accounts of his life, but to the events within his fictional stories.65 In the context of such Fantastic Imagery the artist arrives at “truths” without knowing it, as if there were something in him that could come out only if conscious control could be circumvented.

Nonetheless, in some of this Chicago work formal inventions do further the idiosyncratic images with an almost discernible logic. In her early work, Barbara Rossi depicted forms whose parts seemed in the process of turning inside out, the illusion of inside-outness being furthered by the painting of dots and dashes on the underside of plexiglass. The earlier Ivan Albright narratives of age-ridden people were furthered by a scaly overall detail that certainly alludes to general decay and decomposition. And Art Green’s recent landscapes of tires being pulled apart are furthered by the layering of the composition: tires are at the surface plane, peeling tire fragments are somewhere within the canvas interior, and an insane chartreuse moon is deep behind. The whole composition symbolizes an initial exhausting collapse and concomitant inner breakdown.

In Chicago it seems impossible to locate Fantastic Imagery in any one specific circle or school.66 Rather, I would say, it has been prompted by the Chicago polity: a social, political, and economic machine67 with a feudal demand for allegiance. A sort of New Romanesque68 flailing about within rigid pediments has thus come to symbolize a powerless screaming amidst an unfeeling machine.69 Thus we discover an overreaction in color, form, composition and narrative, within a social situation where all the yelling in the world has done little for the individual. And naturally while Fantastic Imagery has been associated with a controlled, contorted, hopelessly manipulable people, the Bauhaus Look—perhaps because so many government buildings here are Miesian—has been associated with the unfeeling, leveling, “City Hall” system. Indeed, much animation in the Chicago art community has resulted from esthetic “gang wars” from both sides.

Yet, encouragingly, the dichotomy that Franz Schulze described in 1961 now seems less simple. Since 1973, cooperative galleries, unions and art newspapers have been formed to change the scene, and they have found themselves, in turn, part of a newer, enlarged scene made richer by their very diversifying presence. Rebel exhibitions have challenged definitions that have prevailed here since the 1940s, and the growth in number of commercial galleries from about five to about 35 has made it impossible for anyone to miss seeing someone else’s “style.” Significantly, there has even been a loosening in the political machine—can any non-Chicagoan appreciate the almost Surreal possibilities of that?—to the point where Democrats have actually disagreed with Democrats. Lastly, but importantly too, one can still live in Chicago on less than $5000 worth of art sales in a year, and people are now staying long enough to learn what goes on here and to grow with it.

In the resulting synthesis of art styles, “prerationalites” like Barbara Rossi have become more objectively structured, while “purist abstractionists” like Dennis Kowalski have become more mysterious, in an interaction that follows no formulaic recipes. Consider Jerry Peart’s aluminum sculpture, structured objectively enough to win Moholian approval: the angles of one form repeated by the angles of another, a curving element spatially diagramming a continuous organic line which the eye can comfortably follow, in a solid frame of braced and bracing elements—a structure whose solidity is enhanced by warm colors where the form advances, cold colors where they recede. Yet Peart’s colors themselves are extremely idiosyncratic, eccentric, hi-gloss oranges, pinks, crimsons, maroons, yellows, turquoises, chartreuses, sandy tans; and some of those shapes are whacky zig-zag lightning bolts, or cut-out rays from some strange sun. Or take Charles Traub’s photographs, in which a television screen-ish border makes a module of each print, looking in groups like a continuous band of windows along the wall, while inside the structure what Moholy might have called the “forces acting upon and resisting each other”71 are actually navals which echo sand mounds, eye sockets that echo breasts, gymnasts who repeat the horizon. Furthermore, the stunt that Traub shoots is tenuous,while the photo structure is entirely contrived.

Then there are Gunderson and Clark, whose ritualized performances use precisely timed, symmetrical movements against sets whose controlled relationships are carried through to the concise tune of prerecorded, precise, technological sounds. Except that the movements narrate hurt, anger, guilt, retribution, sadness, vengeance, and reunion, while the clear, concise sets turn out to be made of dime-store plastic flowers, farm hay, wire fence, and multicolored lint, which, as a fantasist might agree, reflects the accumulative instinct toward trash that “denotes a pleasure in the vision of the lower middle class.”72 And, similarly, Nancy Davidson’s “curtain walls” of juxtaposed paper strips, which are prefabricated in her studio, and whose dimensions, geared to the scale of an exhibition site, establish a frame with a common ratio to which the parts are all related. But each clean-lined, logically proportioned, geometric strip is impressed with an obsessive rubbing which Davidson, like some Surrealist automaton, powders, chalks, and pencils—strip after strip—over the same area of paint-stained wooden floor. Or Dan Kaplan’s regular carvings, where a grain intrinsic to wood guides the overall shape, while a progression of carvings, when finally attached to their skeletal wooden frameworks, represent monklike characters on a ritual altar, their size finally diminishing to wooden lumps, then broken glass, then disappearing, eccentrically narrating a situation of existence coming to nothing.

A few more syntheses: the components of Roger Brown’s Fantastic Imagery have included silhouetted people who might be waving or shooting at each other, bushes with metaphysical halos, and buildings which cast reverse shadows; but lately Brown has become more thoroughly regularly structured, his ambiguous figures becoming design modules which are reversed, permuted, and inverted in overall flat compositions. This predictability gives the ambiguous images a sort of production-line “truth,” while his transmission of dreamlike elements is ironically facilitated by a computerlike technique. Then too, Jerry Saltz has constructed small wooden “altarpieces” whose iconographic symbols are gesturally rendered, decoratively squiggled, gold and pink shapes—blue mountains, green skies, purple abysses—all of this arranged inside a square box, along the even lines of a predrawn grid, and following a calculated up-and-down movement to lead the eye into and across each tripartite composition. Christina Ranberg has objectified her curious fantasies: headless women laced, roped, corseted, or otherwise tied in with hair, have recently been repeated in Moholian sequence with calculated variations in each appearance; or else each such Freudian image has been split in half, with one side built of juxtaposed rectangles and the other of that same hairbound figure.

And Cindy Snodgrass sews wildly voluptuous, sexually flighty air sculptures which bubble, pouf, and blow in the wind, transiently enacting butterflies turning into Oriental dragons turning into carnival floats, all in brilliant hues. Usually hung between adjoining rationalist, Miesian buildings, her sculptures’ respective spans, heights and weights are hence determined by functional requirements and are underpinned, like the steel and glass buildings themselves, by a largely visible structural web. Regularity coexists with fantasy, the one element serving to emphasize the other.

C. L. Morrison

I am grateful to Elmer Ray Pearson and to the fascinating materials he has housed and preserved at his own initiative; also I would like to acknowledge the well kept and invaluable “ID papers” in the Manuscript Collection at the University of Illinois Circle Campus Library.



1. The cablegrams exchanged between Moholy and the AAI are reprinted in Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude,” in Moholy-Nagy: Experiment in Totality, Cambridge, Mass., 1950, pp. 139–145.

2. Unlike some Russian Constructwists who declared themselves nonpolitical, Moholy saw geometric forms as symbolic of a new social order. This meshed with Walter Gropius’ credo: “Art and Technology—A New Unity.”

3. Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude” (Note 1). p. 139.

4. Moholy’s various projects and involvements after leaving Dessau and before coming to Chicago are described, ibid., pp. 49–138.

5. AAI Promotional Folder, c, 1935. The AAI had initially raised $260.000. to which the Rockefeller Foundation added $100.000. Then they turned this money over to the Art Institute of Chicago to start a design school in three departments: printing, architectural modeling, and furniture. But that collaboration lasted only a year. By the time AAI wired Moholy they had withdrawn their funds and their school from the Art Institute. In the words of Norma K. Stahle, AAI Executive Director, the AAI wanted to be free of “hampering tradition” and able to operate along “practical and real lines.”

6. Correspondence to La Mont Bench from Walter Paepcke, dated March 27, 1950.

7. Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude” (Note 1), p. 7.

8. Ibid., p. 160

9. Ibid., p. 163.

10. Ibid., p. 156.

11. Ibid., p. 162.

12. Moholy-Nagy (plaintiff) vs. Association of Arts and Industries (defendant), File No. 38C14366, Docket #.92. Fee Book 394/539, pg. 588, Register 129, Judge Fisher, Law Files of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

13. Chicago American, March 18, 1936.

14. Joplin (Missouri) News Herald, September 2, 1938.

15. John E. Walley, ’’Influence of the New Bauhaus.“ in Selected Papers: John E. Walley 1910–1974, Chicago. 1976 Actually, Moholy’s idea of a nonfigurative art with social meaning had also been challenged in Berlin when a German composer alleged that revolutionary art was supposed to serve the masses but that the masses were sold out by it and would gladly see the revolutionary artists and the ”pure forms“ hang. Moholy-Nagy, ”Interlude" (Note 1), pp. 87–88.

16. John E. Walley, “Influence” (previous note).

17. Letter in “Art Critic’s Mailbag,” New York Times, from Julia Swan, December 18, 1938. Ms. Swan, a former student at the Berlin Bauhaus under Mies van der Rohe, claimed that the Bauhaus was just a place that glorified other people’s ideas, had no real purpose of its own was a misfit in German society, and probably never should have been brought to America.

18. Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude” (Note 1), p. 169.

19. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, “Better Than Before,” The Technology Review, XLVI; November 1943.

20. The book which details Moholy’s school in Chicago and its work is Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion, Chicago, 1947

21. Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude” (Note 1), p, 169.

22. Ibid., p. 166.

23. Walter Gropius, “Bauhaus Dessau—Principles of Bauhaus Production,” in The Bauhaus, Hans M. Wingler, ed., Cambridge, Mass., 1969, pp. 109–110.

24 Moholy-Nagy, “‘Isms’ or Art?,” in Bauhaus (previous note) p. 115.

25. Walter Gropius, “The Necessity of Commissioned Work for the Bauhaus,” in The Bauhaus (Note 23), p. 51.

26. “ID Papers,” Manuscript Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Library.

27. While it always seemed a problem for industry to contribute money it was rarely a problem for industry to donate equipment. Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude” (Note 1), p. 175.

28. Paepcke had given them a vacant farm in Somontauk, Illinois, whose house and grounds were used for summer sessions.

29. “The Budget Committee for the Thuringian Budget of 1923 and 1924,” in Wingler, Bauhaus (Note 23), p. 90.

30. Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude,” (Note 1), pp. 160–161.

31. Wingler, Bauhaus, (Note 23), p. 93.

32. Ibid., p. 120.

33. Memo to Walter Paepcke from “LDG,” dated March 13, 1942.

34. Correspondence to Mr. Ernest Byfield from Moholy-Nagy, dated August 2, 1945.

35. Correspondence to Walter Gropius from Walter Paepcke, dated April 15,19

36. Correspondence to Jane Mitarchi from Serge Chermeyev, dated December 6, 1956.

37. Serge Chermeyev, Speech to New ID Students, delivered Spring 1947.

38. Preface to the “ID Papers,” Manuscript Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Library.

39. “Notes on the ID program submitted by Serge Chermeyev to Henry T. Heald,” October 6, 1949.

40. Interview with Elmer Ray Pearson by C. L. Morrison, November 11, 1977, Chicago.

41. Correspondence to Walter Paepcke from Serge Chermeyev, dated April 12, 1951.

42. Moholy-Nagy, Vision (Note 20), p. 86.

43. Oswald W. Grube, Peter C. Pran, and Franz Schulze, 100 Years of Architecture in Chicago: Continuity of Structure and Form, Chicago, 1976 Mies was the last Bauhaus director, between 1930 and 1933. He came to Chicago in 1938 to head the Department of Architecture at the Armour Institute which in 1940 merged with IIT. Mies’ architecture was seen to provide a link with Burnham & Root, William Jenney and Charles Atwood, earlier Chicago architects who had stressed objective structure and rational design.

44. Moholy insisted that all people had latent creative abilities which only could emerge in the kind of setting provided by the foundation course. Moholy-Nagy, “Better Than Before” (Note 19).

45. Interview with Pearson. Also Interview with Nathan Lerner by C. L. Morrison, June 30, 1977, Chicago.

46. Memo to Dean Rettaliata from Serge Chermeyev, dated October 3, 1950.

47. Moholy-Nagy, “Postal Interlude” (Note 1), p. 215.

48. As suggested by Moholy in Vision (Note 20), pp. 13–32.

49. Jane Allen and Derek Guthrie, The Other Tradition: Abstract Art in Chicago, exhibition catalogue of the Michael Wyman Gallery, Chicago, 1975.

50. My own study of the “Bauhaus lineage” in current Chicago visual art began with my essay for the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition catalogue, Abstract Art in Chicago, Chicago. 1976.

51. Other Tradition (Note 49).

52. Interviews with Pearson and Lerner.

53. Correspondence to Walter Paepcke from Serge Chermeyev, dated June 7, 1951.

54. Wassily Kandinsky, “On the Problem of Art Education at the Bauhaus,” dated September 29, 1932, Wingler, Bauhaus (Note 23), p. 184.

55. Interviews with Pearson and Lerner.

56. Correspondence to Serge Chermeyev from Walter Gropius, dated March 23, 1950.

57. Compare the statements about art in Moholy’s Vision in Motion with any of Mies’ many published “Statements” about architecture,

58. Ernst “Ten Years of Bauhaus,” in Wingler, Bauhaus (Note 23), p. 16.

59. Franz Schulze, Fantastic Images, Chicago, 1972, pp. 8ff. This style has also been called Imagism, Monster Roster, Hairy Who, and even Chicago Funk, although it has none of the light-hearted zaniness of West Coast Funk.

60. Richard Kappa, “The New Bauhaus,” in the Walley Papers (Note 15).

61. T. Lux Feininger. “Painting, Sculpture and the Graphic Arts,” in Concepts of the Bauhaus, The Busch-Reisinger Museum catalogue, Cambridge, Mass., 1971, p. 48.

62. Ernst Kallai, “Ten Years” (Note 59).

63. Various articles by Franz Schulze including Chicago Tribune, April 19, 1961: Chicago Daily News, March 24, 1962 and August 28, 1965 (“12 Chicago Painters”).

64. This sociopolitical view was touched upon by Max Kozloff in his review essay “Inwardness: Chicago Art Since 1945,” Artforum, October 1972, pp. 51–55.

65. The life and work of Henry Darger are documented in my catalogue essay for the Hyde Park Art Center exhibition Realms of the Unreal, Chicago, 1977.

66. Consider the “discoveries” of Aldo Piacenza making birdhouse-cathedrals and plastic gardens in the Chicago suburb of Highwood, the emergence of Darger’s work from a single room on the North Side where he had lived and worked for more than 30 years, or the presence of Lee Godie selling drawings on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago.

67. The repressive Chicago machine is detailed in various publications, among them Mike Royko, Boss, New York, 1971.

68. The comparison is apt. What Arnold Hauser described as Late Romanesque’s men, animals, fabulous creatures and monsters all unified in a single continuum of chaotic life, a hectic swarming of intermeshed bodies, markedly recalls the convulsive figures in much Fantastic Imagery. The Social History of Art, Vol. III, New York, n.d.

69. Kozloff, a former Chicagoan, wrote that this art style spoke to him of the futility of rage and the uselessness of screaming (Note 64).

70. Stuart E. Cohen in his Chicago Architects, Chicago, 1976, documents the exhibition of that name which postulated that the rationalist Chicago School of Architecture was simpleminded and exclusivist, and that the excellent architecture of Chicago has not merely been objective but has respected the contextural. Cohen claims that the structural steel frame is not of itself architecture.

71. Moholy-Nagy, Vision (Note 20).

72. Don Baum, Made in Chicago: Some Resources, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1975.