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Flash News: From light on László Moholy-Nagy…to light shapes at the Tate

[15 Jun 2018]

From light on László Moholy-Nagy…

Nearly $570,000 paid for a photogram measuring 12.5 cm x 17.6 cm… An auction record for a photograph in Germany, hammered on May 30 last at Villa Grisebach in Berlin for a photo by László MOHOLY-NAGY (1895-1946) dating from the early 1920s. Designer, thinker, major figure of the avant-garde and a master teacher at the Bauhaus school for fifteen years, Moholy-Nagy’s integrationist slogan “art and technique, a new dimension” sums up his approach perfectly. Moholy-Nagy’s role in the school was crucial, especially for the development of photographic practice. In a recent exhibition devoted to Bauhaus at the Pompidou Center, Louise Curtis recalled how photography “gradually became one of the key concerns at Bauhaus especially after the arrival of László Moholy-Nagy in 1923. His theoretical reflection and his artistic activity triggered an important evolution in Bauhaus teaching.” His ‘photogram’ idea involved photographs without a camera. It represented a new form of writing: a luminous drawing condensing the very essence of photography (photos: light + grapho: to write), which he theorized and experimented with for many years. Moreover, the subjects of his photograms indicate many of his other interests, particularly the new industrial materials of the time such as plastics and celluloid whose light spectrums are found in many of his work.

The photogram sold at Grisebach perfectly illustrates these interests and it marks a milestone in the nascence of abstract photography, hence its price of $ 570,000, although this is not the artist’s absolute record (Untitled). The top price paid for one of his photograms is $1.48 million for a superb interplay of hands and light sold by Sotheby’s in New York in December 2012 (Fotogramm)… an exceptional result, even higher than MAN RAY’s record of $1.2 million for a “rayograph” (Untitled Rayograph, at Christie’s in April 2013).

… to light shapes at the Tate

The current exhibition at London’s Tate Modern – Shape of Light, until 14 October 2018 – gives an additional boost to a growing interest in abstract photography. As a pioneer, Moholy-Nagy is naturally part of the show; but this ambitious exhibition is much more than historical exploration. It’s a sensory experience that goes way beyond the field of photography. Involving some 300 works including paintings and abstract sculptures. With optimum use of juxtaposition, the exhibition explores the mini-revolutions and interconnections of the different forms of abstraction. Do not be surprised to find works by Constantin Brancusi, Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Carl Andre. They cleverly echo the 130 photographers in the exhibition, including Man Ray, Alfred STIEGLITZ, Thomas RUFF, Antony Cairns and Maya Rochat.

Shape of light is above all a photo-sensory experience involving the shapes and textures of the history of photography through the medium’s successive innovations since the first experiments in the early 20th century to recent creations using digital technologies. Over time, the tools have changed, but the taste for experimentation has never abated. On the contrary, it has spread throughout the world: among the most recent works in the show, the saturated color proofs of the young Japanese photographer Daisuke YOKOTA (born in 1983). This ‘rock-star’ of photography is considered by some one of the most innovative photographers in the world. In a solo exhibition last year in Amsterdam, he installed a photocopier that produced images visitors could take away with them… thereby adding his own question mark to the old debate of what determines the value of a photograph. At exactly the same time, in London, Phillips sold one of his big colorful photographs for nearly $18,000 (Untitled from Color Photographs, 18 May 2017) … a promising start.

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