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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Fiery Stimulator

He was the most inventive and engaging of all the Bauhaus artists, galvanising the movement to ever-greater heights. What a shame Britain never embraced László Moholy-Nagy when he fled the Nazis in the 1930s.

by Fiona MacCarthy © The Guardian

László Moholy-Nagy, one of the leading figures in the Bauhaus, arrived to work in England in 1935, two years after that experimental school of art and design was closed down by the Nazis. His English was not fluent. Taken to a party in London by John Betjeman, he said smilingly to his hostess: "Thank you for your hostilities."

The remark was not entirely inappropriate: Moholy-Nagy's reception in [England] was not an open-armed one. Even so-called modernists found him baffling, the boiler-suited technocrat with the magnificent grin. His sheer versatility was suspect in a country where they liked you to be one thing or another. Painter, sculptor, photographer, film-maker, industrial designer, typographer: what was Moholy-Nagy not? The Bauhaus itself, which placed great emphasis on programmes and production, seemed alien to a nation still steeped in the gentler traditions of the arts and crafts. London Transport's design impresario Frank Pick expressed a widely held artistic xenophobia in dismissing Moholy-Nagy as "a gentleman with a modernistic tendency who produces pastiches of photographs of a surrealistic type, and I am not at all clear why we should fall for this. It is international, or at least continental. Let us leave the continent to pursue their own tricks."

When he arrived in London, however, László Moholy-Nagy was at the height of his extraordinary powers....




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