Bácsborsód, Hungary 1895 – 1946 Chicago, Illinois
Vintage. Photogram on silver gelatin paper. Unique work. 50,5 × 40,4 cm (19 ⅞ × 15 ⅞ in.) Signed and dated in brown ink: „L. Moholy=Nagy Photogram 1939“ as well as signed and dated in pencil along with dedication: „to Felix Witzinger with very best wishes L. Moholy=Nagy 1941 August 20th“. With light handling marks. 
ProvenanceFelix Witzinger, Switzerland / Private Collection, Switzerland
EUR 50.000 – 70.000
USD 56,800 – 79,500
Throughout the various phases of his oeuvre of photograms, Moholy-Nagy returned time and again to specific “groups” of physical objects that apparently had fascinated him with their unique interplay of light and form. In stark contrast to Man Ray, who animates the objects in his photograms and showcases them as storytellers, Moholy starts by preventing the objects he uses from being recognizable. As a result, he keeps his images (which are invariably untitled) from being amenable to any narrative interpretation. His real intention, it would seem, is to create an experience that cannot be captured in words. As with music, whose nature is equally abstract, Moholy’s photograms confront us with visual impressions that cannot be compared to anything we have encountered before.
Given the sense of eruptive agitation the present photogram evokes, one could almost feel as if one were witnessing some sort of cosmic event. Lit-up forms seem to shift against a black background. A stellar body appears to hurtle in elliptical orbit around an energy center that is gradually unfolding outward as it gyrates (whereby the matte and velvety pitch-black of the image surface intensifies the impression of spatial infinity). Alternatively, and similarly to the effect achieved by the other photograms in the same “group,” the image evokes a synesthetic sensation reminiscent of sound – in keeping with the concept of the ancient Greeks, who regarded the cosmos to be filled with the “harmony of the spheres.”
In a later period, around 1943, Moholy-Nagy used similar materials such as bent metal rods and plexi glass in order to create what look like disembodied sculptures consisting of imagined volumes (cf. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, “Moholy-Nagy, Experiment in Totality,” New York 1950; catalogue “A New Vision For Chicago,” Illinois State Museum, 1990, and the catalogue “Moholy-Nagy Future Present,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2016/17).
The image presented here was not yet known to us when the catalogue raisonné of Moholy’s oeuvre of photograms was prepared (2009), which explains why it is not included therein. Although the catalogue concludes with Item Number “fgm 421,” several additional photograms have surfaced since then. The work at hand has therefore been assigned Item Number “fgm 428.”
According to Moholy-Nagy’s daughter Hattula, the provenance of this photogram can be traced back to the Swiss Pianist Felix Witzinger (born in Basle, Switzerland, died in Indianapolis), an avid collector who also purchased works by Moholy. It is quite conceivable that Moholy may have dedicated this work to the musician Witzinger as the photogram of a “sculpture in sound.”
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