Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein; Cologne, Kölnischer Kunstverein & Zürich, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1974-75, no. 27, illustrated in the catalogue
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou & Centre de Création Industrielle au Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1976-77, no. 27, illustrated in the catalogue
London, Tate Modern; Bielefeld, Germany, Kunshtalle Bielefeld & New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Albers and Moholy-Nagy from the Bauhaus to the New World, 2006-07, no. 18, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago & Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Moholy-Nagy, Future Present, 2016, no. 49, illustrated in color in the catalogue (exhibited only in New York)
The present work is one of three compositions (EM 1, EM 2 and EM 3), executed on the theme of the Telephonbild and the only work from this series to remain in private hands. Versions two and three reside in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The enamels were executed first on graph paper, and the colors were chosen from an industrial key at the Stark & Reise enamel sign factory in Tannroda, Germany. Debate exists regarding how exactly these three enamel works were created; in 1924 and 1944, the artist claimed to have ordered them over the telephone: “In 1922, I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory’s color chart before me and I sketched my painting on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper, divided into squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position. (It was like playing chess by correspondence). One of these pictures was delivered in three different sizes, so that I could study the subtle difference in the color relations caused by the enlargement and reduction” (L. Moholy-Nagy, The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, New York, 1946).
EM 2 Telephonbild and EM 3 Telephonbild were exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in 2013 where the text panel accompanying the works read: “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).
In addition to the influence of Duchamp and the readymade, the present work is an amalgamation of many of the most important twentieth-century movements including Dadaism, Soviet Constructivism and Productivism. In the early 1920s, Moholy-Nagy was fervently searching for a new style for his mode of expression which would place him at the forefront of the avant-garde. In this search he turned to the ideal of the engineer-artist and joined in the Constructivist and Productivist belief that easel painting was dead. In its place was instead the use of industrial technologies to make prototypes of art which could later be produced for the masses. Despite his interest in this avant-garde means of production, the Telephonbild enamel series was Moholy-Nagy’s one and only painting executed solely by machine.
The first owner of the present work was Jan van der Marck (1929-2010), an art historian, museum director and curator who championed new art throughout his illustrious career. Van der Marck helped found the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and organized Dan Flavin's first museum show. He was also one of the first museum curators to support the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and as the director of the Center for the Fine Arts in Miami (now the Miami Art Museum), invited them to do a project which later became Surrounded Islands (1983), one of their most celebrated installations. While at the museum of Contemporary Art, he organized the conceptual exhibition Art by Telephone, 1969 in which artists gave instructions as to how their works were to be made and installed via the telephone.
The present work was undoubtedly the preeminent inspiration behind this museum exhibition and was later the sole inspiration for Edward Ruscha when he designed an exhibition poster for the New Painting of Common Objects exhibition held at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962. This exhibition was the first museum survey of American Pop Art and exhibited for the first time the work of artists such as Lichtenstein, Jim Dine and Andy Warhol. Moholy-Nagy's influence on abstraction in the twentieth century cannot be overstated.
EM 1 Telephonbild is dated as conceived in 1922 and executed in 1923. Moholy-Nagy conceived and ordered the telephone pictures in the later part of 1922. The production was likely completed several months later in 1923. Both dates are noted on the reverse of the composition. This work was then included in the seminal 1924 exhibition of Moholy-Nagy's work at Galerie Der Sturm.
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