László Moholy-Nagy

born 1895 in Bácsborsód, Hungary; died 1946 in Chicago


1913–1918: Studies law

1918: Devotes himself to painting

1919: Moves to Vienna and in 1920 to Berlin

1921: Marries the photographer Lucia Schulz; they separate in 1929

1922: First solo exhibition at Berlin’s Der Sturm gallery

1923: As master of form in the metal workshop and director of the Preliminary Course, Moholy-Nagy becomes Johannes Itten’s successor at the Bauhaus in Weimar

Until 1928: Teaches in Weimar and Dessau, where he is also assistant to Walter Gropius—working together as co-editors, they begin publication of the Bauhausbücher in 1924

1928: Founds his own studio in Berlin after the termination of his teaching activities at the Bauhaus; he embarks on his second marriage with Dorothea Pietzsch (artist name: Sibyl Peach), a dramaturge, actress, art historian, and architectural critic

1933: Begins working together with the Schott & Gen glassworks in Jena, where he offers his services as a graphic designer

1934: After Hitler seizes power, he is banned from exercising his profession and emigrates to England via Amsterdam (1935–1937), before moving to the USA

1937: Founds the New Bauhaus in Chicago, which later evolves into the Institute of Design

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

László Moholy-Nagy was one of the pioneers who led the way in working with new media. He began as a painter, drawing inspiration from Kazimir Malevich, De Stijl, constructivism, and Kurt Schwitters, among others, and he would return to this medium time and again throughout his life. However, the most important field for him as an artist was photography: in the 1920s he became the leading proponent of the photogram, a way of creating photographs without a camera by directly exposing objects on light-sensitive materials. He developed theoretical and practical principles for implementing this method.

Moholy-Nagy also produced Telephone Pictures in the 1920s. These enamel images are regarded as early examples of media art: to create them the artist would relay his instructions to a sign-making factory by telephone.

As a graphic designer, Moholy-Nagy was responsible for, among other things, the advertising campaign for Jena glass designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld, which became an iconic product epitomizing modernist culture.


Moholy-Nagy was particularly interested in light as a phenomenon, in its refraction, reflection, and photographic fixing. It was also a key factor in his films. He published his programmatic ideas on the subject in 1925 as part of the Bauhausbücher series under the title Painting, Photography, Film.

His Light-Space Modulator (1922–1930), an object that can create a play of light and shadow on the wall of a darkened room, prefigured the props that are now commonly used to create lighting effects, in discotheques, for example.

Author: Doris Leutgeb



László Moholy-Nagy was neither a musician nor a composer, but his interest in working with new technical possibilities also extended into these areas. Like the Italian bruitists before him, he saw sound and noise as of equal importance and undertook experiments with new media to expand the sound spectrum. In the process, he developed the concept of scratching vinyl records to directly generate sounds when they were played—a concept comparable to his camera-less photography.


In July 1923 Moholy-Nagy published his text »Neue Gestaltung in der Musik: Möglichkeiten des Grammophons« (New Forms in Music: Potentialities of the Phonograph) in the monthly magazine Der Sturm: here, he sets out his ideas for the »renewal of sound design« by applying scratches to the surface of records. He suggests »that the phonograph be transformed from an instrument of reproduction into one of production; this will cause the sound phenomenon itself to be created on the record, which carried no prior acoustic message, by the incision of groove-script lines as required. […] By establishing a groove-script alphabet an overall instrument is created which supersedes all instruments used so far. […] The composer would be able to create his composition for immediate reproduction on the disc itself, thus he will not be dependent on the absolute knowledge of the interpretative artist.«

By way of example, Moholy-Nagy produced a groove-script on a gramophone record and published the result in the form of a photograph. He was thus the visionary pioneer of a method that would become popular in the 1970s as »scratching.« Drawing inspiration from the Fluxus movement, visual artist and composer Christian Marclay further developed scratching with the aim of producing extensive sound effects by working directly on the records and record players to the point where they were destroyed. Marclay is credited with being one of the inventors of the special (direct drive) turntables that can put up with rough treatment. In hip-hop culture, scratching is an integral part of DJing.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

László Moholy-Nagy

photograph of a scratched gramophone record, 1920s

photo: von Löbbecke

László Moholy-Nagy, photograph of a scratched gramophone record, 1920s photo: von Löbbecke


Doris Leutgeb