Lot 319
  • 319

László Moholy-Nagy

250,000 - 350,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • László Moholy-Nagy
  • Mobile sculpture (Space modulator)
  • Plexiglass and chromium rods
  • Height: 32 in.
  • 81.3 cm


Suzette Morton Hamill, Chicago (acquired directly from the artist in 1945)
Thence by descent


Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Moholy-Nagy, Experiment in Totality: A Biography, New York, 1950, illustrated pp. 205-06
Renate Heyne, Moholy-Nagy, The Photograms, Catalogue Raisonné, Bonn, 2009, illustrated p. 295


The sculpture is in good condition considering its age and the fragility of the material. On the upper Plexiglass element there is a broken tip on each end of the form. On the same element minor chips in the plexi could also be seen along the side edges. The lower element displays a minor loss on one tip and one minor loss on its side. Fine scratches were observed on the surface of both elements. The plated chrome rods exhibit minor losses in the plating revealing a darker surface below. The above condition report was prepared by Wilson Conservation Inc., independent restorers who are not employees of Sotheby's.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Through his changing affiliations with groups of radical European artists in the first half of the 20th century, Làszlò Moholy-Nagy followed a strict personal line of questioning about the ways in which new technologically-informed means of art production could produce original relationships between color, light, and space. This preoccupation would famously lead Moholy-Nagy to create his Light-Space Modulator (The Light Prop) (1922-30), and undertake a series of unprecedented experimentations with new materials and dimensional orientations in pursuit of unification of light and space. In a lecture on the potential for plastics as a material solution, the artist further alluded to the necessity of motion, stating: “This urge of mine to supersede pigment with light has its counterpoint in a drive to dissolve solid volume into defined space. When I think of sculpture, I cannot think of static mass. Emotionally, sculpture and movement are interdependent. It seems illogical to invite the spectator to adjust himself to kinetic painting and then immobilize him before a carved stone or a piece of sculptured plastic” (ibid., p. 205).

“Twenty years later Moholy’s plexiglass and chromium sculptures grew organically from the light modulators. They were destabilizations of designed form” (ibid.). Indeed, the title Space Modulator points to the artist’s insistence that movement is intrinsic to a successful sculpture, and it is essential to the intended viewing experience (a concept which the artist famously documented photographically using the present work) (see fig. 2). Writing about the present work, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy explains : “In 1943 he had completed his first plexiglass and chromium-rod sculpture. Two heavy planes of perforated plexiglass were held together by chromium rods; as the suspended form turned, it created a virtual volume of reflected light or it merely vibrated as the air around it moved. It was up to the spectator to animate the sculpture according to his own intensity. His re-creative pleasure could express itself in a gentle twist or a powerful whirl” (ibid. pp. 205-06).

Space Modulator and the associated photographs Moholy-Nagy took represent the pinnacle of unification across media and materials, for the first time truly incorporating intangible light and space as primary components of a composition. Apart from the present work, Moholy-Nagy created only two other plexiglass and chromium mobiles in 1945 and 1946, the latter of which is currently in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. “They were the closest Moholy came to a kinetic solution. Like Cézanne, he knew that he was ‘only the primitive on the way he has chosen,’ but he also knew that his light mobiles bear in themselves the potentialities of a new kaleidoscopic sculpture” (ibid., p. 206).