László Moholy-Nagy. EM 2 (Telephone Picture). 1923

László Moholy-Nagy EM 2 (Telephone Picture) 1923

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 513 The David Geffen Wing

These works were produced by an enamel factory in Weimar, Germany, according to instructions given by the artist. Moholy-Nagy later wrote that he placed the order by telephone, thus providing the paintings with their unofficial title. While the three works share an identical abstract, geometric composition, EM 1, EM 2, and EM 3 were made at large, medium, and small scale, respectively. Each painting’s glossy enamel surface features a single strip of black that extends from top to bottom and two abstract shapes formed by lines of various thicknesses that intersect perpendicularly.

After encountering the work of the Russian avant-garde at an exhibition in Berlin in the early 1920s, Moholy-Nagy was persuaded by these artists’ belief that a revolutionary society demanded a radically new artistic language. He incorporated these ideas into his teaching at the Bauhaus, the influential German school of art, architecture, and design founded in Weimar in 1919 whose curriculum embraced modern technology as integral to art. By rejecting unique, handmade artwork in favor of serial mechanical production in his “telephone pictures,” Moholy-Nagy emphasized the role of the modern artist as a producer of concepts rather than a craftsman physically involved in the making of the work.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

Shortly after joining the faculty of the Bauhaus art school, in Weimar, Germany, in April 1923, Moholy had Construction in Enamel 2 and 3 made at a local enamel factory. He would later claim to have ordered them by describing them over the telephone, exaggerating both his distance from the manufacturing process that produced them and the degree of technological mediation involved. In doing so Moholy presented the artist in the modern age as producer of ideas rather than things. While sharing the same abstract geometric composition, the works use a mathematical progression to change its scale, highlighting the conception of the image as transferable data.

Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013.
Medium
Porcelain enamel on steel
Dimensions
18 3/4 x 11 7/8" (47.5 x 30.1 cm)
Credit
Gift of Philip Johnson in memory of Sibyl Moholy-Nagy
Object number
91.1971
Copyright
© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Department
Painting and Sculpture

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

1923 - 1946, László Moholy-Nagy, Dessau and Chicago.
1946 - ?, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy (1903-1971, the artist’s widow), Chicago and New York, inherited from the artist.
By 1964 - 1971, Philip C. Johnson (1906-2005), New York and New Canaan, Connecticut, purchased from Sibyl Moholy-Nagy.
1971, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as gift from Philip Johnson.

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