This provocative book examines crucial philosophical questions László Moholy-Nagy explored in theory and practice throughout his career. Why paint in a photographic age? Why work by hand when technology holds so much promise? The stakes of painting, or not painting, were tied to much larger considerations of the ways art, life, and modernity were linked for Moholy and his avant-garde peers. Joyce Tsai’s close analysis reveals how Moholy’s experience in exile led to his attempt to recuperate painting, not merely as an artistic medium but as the space where the trace of human touch might survive the catastrophes of war. László Moholy-Nagy: Painting after Photography will significantly reshape our view of the artist’s oeuvre, providing a new understanding of cultural modernism and the avant-garde.
Joyce Tsai is Curator of Art at the University of Iowa Museum of Art and Clinical Associate Professor of Art Education at the University of Iowa.
“With historical insight and a keen eye, Joyce Tsai escorts us through the period of the interwar avant-garde and presents Moholy-Nagy as a master in the use of industrial materials to create compelling visual effects. Her passion and evocative narrative skillfully reveal the artist’s profound quest to synthesize art and life through technology.”—Lena Stringari, Deputy Director and Chief Conservator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
“The result of close and sustained looking, this book reimagines a Weimar-era giant we thought we knew. It examines not just Moholy-Nagy’s painting practice, but also the interdisciplinary means at his disposal from the World War I battlefield to the Bauhaus and beyond. Tsai, like her subject, challenges stubborn divides between media and notions of artistic and technological progress. An indelible contribution to our understanding of Moholy-Nagy and his legacy and that of the interwar avant-garde.”—Lynette Roth, Daimler Curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard Art Museums
“Going far beyond Moholy-Nagy, Tsai takes on nothing less than the greatest clichés associated with the avant-garde, giving much-needed historical traction and conceptual nuance to such matters as the end of painting, heightened sense perception, and the embrace of new technologies. One of the most astute and groundbreaking contributions amid renewed attention to early twentieth-century art, this book is a gift to the field.”—Christine Mehring, Professor and Chair, Department of Art History, University of Chicago