Untitled, 1928-1929
unique gelatin silver print
signed, titled and dated in pencil (verso)
image/sheet: 914 x 1158 in. (23.4 x 29.5 cm.)
Czech architect Otto Eisler (1893 - 1968);
Sotheby's, London, May 6, 1999, lot 301;
Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco;
acquired from the above by the late owner, 2006.
László Moholy–Nagy et. al., Moholy-Nagy, The Photograms, Catalogue Raisonné, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, c. 2009, pl. 285, p. 208.
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Lot Essay

The photogram, or camera-less record of forms produced by light, which embodies the unique nature of the photographic process, is the real key to photography. - László Moholy-Nagy

By the time this unique photogram was created, László Moholy-Nagy had mastered the process and developed his own distinct, visual language for the artform. Moholy-Nagy's belief in the photogram technique was fundamental to his practice and had become an essential concept in his constantly evolving studies.

Experimenting across multiple forms throughout his career and as a Professor in the Bauhaus in Germany, Moholy-Nagy explored the integration of art and technology, especially as it related to the interplay of light and space. By creating in multiple media, his goal was to eliminate the hierarchization and separation of the arts.

The unique work on offer here was made between 1928 and 1929, several years after Moholy-Nagy began experimenting with the technique in the early 1920s. The photogram was acquired directly from Moholy-Nagy by the Czech architect Otto Eisler (1893-1968), who worked for a time with Moholy-Nagy's Bauhaus colleagues. The composition and delicate movement of the objects placed in the image here were carefully chosen by Moholy-Nagy to produce a harmony with underlying tension. Contrasting elements come together to create a visually exhilarating photograph that is a fine example of a true master at work. With the photogram process, images are made without a camera: objects are placed on the sheet of photographic paper and then exposed to light. Where the paper is uncovered, it receives maximum exposure to light giving it a darker tone, and where the paper is covered, there is no exposure to light giving it the lightest tone on the print. While the objects used for this composition are disguised, they are understood to be everyday household and industrial forms. The mystery and magic that the image evokes exemplifies Moholy’s captivation with blending art forms and pushing boundaries of the media he employed.

The Constructivist influence found in early paintings by the artist can also be observed in the present work. The Constructive movement, which posited that art should reflect the modern, industrial world, is expressed through the stripped-down geometric forms and unassuming materials that comprise the image. The unconventional angle of linear objects is consistent with other works by the artist, which often display overlapping shapes that seem to be effortlessly flowing. 'This reality of our century is technology: the invention, construction, and maintenance of machines. To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit of this century. It has replaced the transcendental spiritualism of past eras. Everyone is equal before the machine. I can use it, so can you. It can crush me; the same can happen to you. There is no tradition in technology, no class-consciousness. Everybody can be the machine’s master, or its slave” (Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Moholy-Nagy Experiment in Totality, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, 1969, p. 19).

As seen above, the verso of the print is dated ‘1923’ by the artist. In Maholy-Nagy: The Photograms: Catalogue Raisonné, Renate Heyne and Floris Neususs explained that the forms used to create the image; the 24 x 30 cm format; and the matte surface are all typical of the artist’s Berlin period of work, which began in 1928. Similar objects were used for another work by the artist (fgm 286) which is known to be part of the Giedion portfolio prodced by the artist in 1929, which narrows the dating of the present work (fgm 285) to 1928-1929. 1928 was the year that Moholy-Nagy left the Bauhaus and went on his own to work in Berlin, where he continued to experiment across all art forms, including the photogram.

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