An outline of the universe
Hungary, United States of America
20 Jul 1895 - 24 Nov 1946
‘But the ‘fact’ of photography does not grow or diminish in value according to whether it is classified as a method of recording reality or as a medium of scientific investigation or as a way of preserving vanished events, or as a basis for the process of reproduction, or as ‘art’.’ László Moholy-Nagy 1927 (1)
Moholy-Nagy left his home in Hungary in 1920 to escape the counter-revolution and made his way first to Germany where he would later work at the Bauhaus with Walter Gropius from 1923 to 1928. His contribution to the Bauhaus was his passion for wedding art and technology; he was fascinated by machines. He was typical of his generation in Europe between the wars in that he experimented with different media and moved easily between fine-art and design. He worked in photography, film and painting and initiated kinetic and light-emitting sculptures.
Like other artists investigating photography he understood the possibilities of light and motion which exemplified something about the new technological world. It was Moholy-Nagy, however, who best captured this aspect of modern times in his photographs and sculptures. He made distinctions between photomontage and what he called ‘fotosculpture’ where the forms were more starkly defined and easier to read. He also coined the term ‘fotoplastic’ to describe photo-collage that had been re-photographed to create a unified surface and pictorial quality.
‘An outline of the universe’ by J G Crowther was a scientific publication published in 1931. Moholy-Nagy’s cover design for the book has all the dynamism we associate with his work. He created an optically spatial background using his trademark concentric circles which overlap like gravitational fields around astronomical bodies. Floating in front of this energised field is a glass globe on which the title of the work is printed in what was for the time a very contemporary typeface.
1. Rodchenko A 1928, ‘Unprecedented photography’, in Phillips C ed 1989, ‘Photography in the modern era: European documents and critical writings, 1913–1940’, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Aperture, New York p 83
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
gelatin silver photograph, vintage
23.9 x 18.2 cm image/sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors' Program 2001
Not on display
© László Moholy-Nagy/ADAGP. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Modernists: Selections from the European Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 07 Nov 2015–25 Apr 2016
Call of the Avant-Garde: Constructivism and Australian Art, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 05 Jul 2017–08 Oct 2017
Referenced in 8 publications
Anthony Bond, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'International modernism', pg.93-111, Sydney, 2007, 102 (illus.).
Natasha Bullock, Look, 'Experimentation in motion', Melbourne, May 2001, 13 (illus.).
Agnieszka Rejniak-Majewska, A machine for communicating: Around the avant-garde idea of new typography, 'Education of the senses in the era of technology: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes', pg. 145-192, Poland, 2015, 162 (colour illus.), 179. figure 2
Author Unknown, László Moholy-Nagy Frühe photographien, Paris, 1989, 47 (illus.).
L Moholy-Nagy, London, 1980, 55. cat.no. 63
Moholy-Nagy - experiment in totality, New York, 1950. figure 44
An outline of the universe, London, 1931, cover (illus.).
László Moholy-Nagy, Marseille, 1991, 288. cat.no. 195