Moholy-Nagy: Future Present Opens at the Guggenheim

The New York City museum hosts the first U.S. retrospective of the Hungarian artist and designer in almost 50 years, bringing together paintings, photography, and installations never before shown together.

"Composition with Yellow Cross" (1922). (Photo: Courtesy Guggenheim)

We live in an era of technological and scientific influence, and art that acknowledges that is a natural way forward. Perhaps no one understood this better, or at least earlier, than László Moholy-Nagy, whose sprawling oeuvre is finally being honored comprehensively in the Guggenheim’s “Future Present” (on view from May 27 to Sept. 7). Moholy-Nagy died prematurely in 1946, but not before distinguishing himself as a photographer, painter, sculptor, printmaker, and industrial designer, with most of his works borrowing from at least two of those disciplines. Consider his 1930 kinetic sculpture “Light Prop for an Electric Stage,” a glorious design object that reflects and projects light, essentially painting a nearby wall.

“Future Present” aims to show the artist in all his eclectic glory, with more than 300 works on display, the result of four years of curatorial work. “He wasn’t just after one facet of what art can be, he really wanted to go beyond that,” says Karole P. B. Vail, organizing curator for the exhibition. To her, the show really comes together in Moholy-Nagy’s “Room of the Present.” A sort of walk-in camera with floating, ethereal photographic reproductions projected on unorthodox surfaces, the design of the space adds “architect” to his already hefty curriculum vitae. Moholy-Nagy died before “Room of the Present” could be realized, but Vail said that more than any other piece, it shows his prescience in anticipating a world dominated by social media. “I think Moholy-Nagy is, in many ways, a precursor to how we look at images and disseminate images to the outside world,” she says.

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