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An outline of the universe



László Moholy-Nagy

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




Media category


Materials used

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

Accession number


Artist information

László Moholy-Nagy

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

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.).

JG Crowther, An outline of the universe, London, 1931, cover (illus.).

Catherine David, László Moholy-Nagy, Marseille, 1991, 288. 195

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Moholy-Nagy - experiment in totality, New York, 1950. figure 44

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

Terence A. Senter, L Moholy-Nagy, London, 1980, 55. 63

Author Unknown, László Moholy-Nagy Frühe photographien, Paris, 1989, 47 (illus.).