Moholy-Nagy, Composition A.XX
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Moholy-Nagy, Composition A.XX

October 10, 2019

(lively music) Dr. Zucker: We’re in the Pompidou in Paris and we’re looking at L�szl� Moholy-Nagy. This is a ’20 from 1924. Moholy-Nagy was a member of
the Hungarian Avant-garde but in 1920, he comes
to Dessau, to Germany to Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus and takes over the first year program. Now, what’s really important is that when Moholy-Nagy comes in, he comes in almost as a kind of engineer. He’s often portrayed in work coveralls and he helps the Bauhaus
transform into a school that emphasizes the industrial
to a much greater extent. Dr. Harris: With the
arrival of Moholy-Nagy, we have this new interest in the machine and we certainly have a sense
here of very simplified forms. It’s easy to misunderstand its simplicity, unless one spend some time with it. Dr. Zucker: Okay, so at
first, it simply looks like a number of geometric
forms that are overlapping and there’s nothing much there. but in fact, this is
a really careful study about space transparency,
translucency and opacity. Dr. Harris: So, if you think
about it in terms of light, it becomes easier to
understand its complexity. Dr. Zucker: And this is in fact, one
of the so called light paintings. Let’s see if we can
work our way through it. My eye is led into this canvas
by this long plane of glass or what seems like glass. This purely transparent form that almost looks like
an outsize glass slide that you might use under a microscope. Dr. Harris: And it forms a diagonal line that suggests a recession into space. Dr. Zucker: I wanna
stay with that metaphor of the microscope’s
glass slide for a moment because I think that there is a kind of scientific investigation here. Dr. Harris: So, if we
have that transparent, glass-like shape that forms that diagonal, we have another similar form that doesn’t appear transparent that emerges into our space almost like it’s abutting
against the transparent shape. Dr. Zucker: But not exactly
at a right angle, right? It’s a bit more open and it goes into a much deeper space. Dr. Harris: And it’s remarkable
to me how deep a space, Moholy-Nagy has constructed just with these very, very simple forms. We also have a sense of
opacity and transparency and translucency in the
forms around the circle that are overlapping here and also, in the two vertical forms. Dr. Zucker: Well, what’s interesting
about those vertical forms, is that instead of using
orthogonals to create space, he’s using scale to create space. So, we have the larger, thicker one and then evidently, much deeper in space, much further away, the
one that’s more narrow. Dr. Harris: And also that
circle in the distance that helps to create an illusion of space. Dr. Zucker: Right, and
then look at the bands both vertical and horizontal that crossed. You know, those are translucent but when they crossed, in a sense there’s enough visual
mass so they become opaque but then counter that with what we might take to
be opacity but it’s not. It’s reflectivity in a way
that the transparent plane actually overlays that
translucent vertical and then you have a kind
of white negative space Dr. Harris: (laughs) as opposed to opacity. Dr. Harris: So, we have the opaque, which one can’t see through. The translucent, which one
can see through somewhat. The transparent, which one
can see through entirely and reflectivity and the
different ways that those overlap and affect color and space. What’s interesting to me is that Moholy-Nagy has not represented
any of those things. If you think about the way that
painters represent reflectivity and mirrors or transparency with
a wine glass in a still life, all of those things are still here but in a very different language. Dr. Zucker: Well, it’s almost
the language of mathematics. This is an abstraction
that refers to those things in the purest terms, almost
in mathematical terms, as opposed to the
representation of those things. (lively music)

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