One of the leading Bauhaus figures, László Moholy-Nagy’s constructions, compositions and photograms communicate a sense of infinite space, rooted in modernity and mass production.
The rational Hungarian became head instructor of the Bauhaus foundation course replacing the mystical master of colour Johannes Itten. Lead by Walter Gropius the Bauhaus thrived, evolving into the leading school of Modern design.
Composition XX is rooted in reality, it doesn’t offer an escapist fictive space. Ably constructed using ruler and compass, Composition XX resembles the ‘prouns’ of the influential Russian artist and designer El Lissitzky.
The composition appears to be on the edge of transformation – created with pure geometric forms and strong perspectival elements – the result approaches a three-dimensional, architectural arrangement.
The circle with a superimposed cross is a motif found in Russian avant-garde art, most notably the Suprematist work of Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky. This vocabulary was absorbed and reappropriated by the Constructivists. Indeed, Moholy-Nagy proclaimed that –
‘Constructivism is the Socialism of vision’
The piece is a fluent exercise in visual grammar. The artist plays with depth, perspective, opacity and reflectivity. The combination of the planes of ‘glass’ that plunge into the works heart, and the blackness of the circle create a monumental depth. The square, the triangle and the circle are all present – rendered expertly.
The structure of the work hangs on the cruciform, from which the artist builds a spacious, dynamic arrangement – confidently exploring perception and suggestion, with a steady, playful hand.
Moholy-Nagy would have rejected any mystical associations that come with the cross and circle. More likely, the religious symbolism is a nod to the Russians, who saw their abstractions as natural heirs to the tradition of religious icons. Moholy-Nagy advertised his affinity for these conjoined forms on at least one occasion. He appeared at one of the famous Bauhaus parties dressed as a circle with a cross through it.
The Nazis closed the ‘degenerate’ Bauhaus in 1933, and Moholy-Nagy fled to London, where he was part of the circle of émigré artists and intellectuals. In 1939 he founded the Chicago Institute of Design (later integrated with the Illinois Institute of Technology).