Alice Rawsthorn reclaims Lazlo Moholy-Nagy’s good name and tries to explain why the artist is so little known. But if she’s right, he’s only going to get more important as time goes on:
[W]hile Mr. Moholy-Nagy’s more famous peers were leaders in disciplines whose importance was recognized throughout the 20th century — Mr. Gropius, Mr. Breuer and Mr. Mies in architecture and Mr. Albers in painting — his own influence was greatest in the younger medium of digital design, whose cultural significance is only just starting to be appreciated. Mr. Moholy-Nagy not only influenced the construction of digital imagery through his writing, but has a direct connection to contemporary software designers, like John Maeda, Ben Fry and Casey Reas, who studied in the visual design program founded by his protégé, Mr. Kepes, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mr. Moholy-Nagy left Hungary in 1919, fleeing first to Vienna, then Berlin, where he joined the Dadaist artists linked to the avant-garde gallery Der Sturm. It was then that he started work on the Light Space Modulator, and created his most influential paintings, the so-called Telephone Pictures of 1922, which Mr. Moholy-Nagy “ordered” from a sign factory by phoning in the instructions. In 1923, he joined the Bauhaus at the invitation of its founder, Walter Gropius, and helped to rebuild the school in the Constructivist spirit of technocracy. A charismatic figure who taught his classes in red factory overalls to symbolize his belief in the creative potential of industry and technology, he was a popular and inspiring teacher.
When Mr. Gropius left the Bauhaus in 1927, Mr. Moholy-Nagy resigned in sympathy, and moved to Berlin, where he worked on graphic and theater design projects while completing the Light Space Modulator. He hired a young Hungarian artist-turned-filmmaker, Gyorgy Kepes, who was to accompany him into exile in Amsterdam and London, and then to Chicago, where Mr. Gropius had arranged for Mr. Moholy-Nagy to open the New Bauhaus — American School of Design.
A Life of Light and Shadow (New York Times)