Hungary-born László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) was known for his paintings, photography, films, and sculptures, as well as designs for advertising, products, and theater sets. He came to prominence as a professor at the Bauhaus art school in Germany in the late 1920s, and in 1937 he founded the New Bauhaus in Chicago, which today is known as the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Future Present, the first comprehensive retrospective of Moholy-Nagy’s work in the United States in nearly 50 years, is currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 3, 2017. The exhibition brings together more than 300 works to survey the career of the multimedia artist. It was previously on view in New York at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and will travel to Los Angeles County Museum of Art in February 2017.
In creating art Moholy-Nagy used materials of his time, such as recorded sound, photography, film, and synthetic plastics. His work demonstrated that art can gain fresh meaning through a change in size, reorientation, reverse printing, or a shift in lighting. For example, one room of Future Perfect shows 38 photomontages—nearly all known compositions in nearly every physical variant—brought together for the first time. Another presents three “telephone paintings,” a single abstract composition that Moholy-Nagy ordered in three sizes from an enamel sign factory in 1923. This trio of industrial paintings has been separated for decades. All six of his iconic views from the Berlin Radio Tower are united in another room, while a multimedia installation, Room of the Present, which Moholy-Nagy conceived in 1930 but did not finish, is shown as completed within another space.
The exhibition focuses on Moholy-Nagy’s time in the United States, in which his art shifted from the abstract to 3-D hybrids of painting and sculpture. Many of the artist’s late works in Plexiglas—which are wall-mounted, freestanding, and suspended midair—are displayed together. These works came from his time teaching at the New Bauhaus in Chicago. Future Perfect also includes a “teaching wall” that frames some of Moholy-Nagy’s pedagogical ideas. The show’s finale features his recorded voice and a projection of abstract color slides that he made in part by recording traces of headlights and taillights on Lake Shore Drive at night.