This exhibition brings together, for the first time, the creative visions of two pioneers of twentieth-century art: Josef Albers (1888–1976) and László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). Although their careers overlapped only briefly, while they were both teaching at the Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928, their work engages with a similar set of questions. These include the status of art in an industrialised society, the ethical and moral responsibilities of the artist in that society, the boundaries between media, and the distinctions between high, popular and commercial art. Yet their respective answers to these questions are very different, and it is this dialogue between two distinct and personal approaches to a common ideological ground that forms the heart of this exhibition.
From the Bauhaus to the New World begins in the years immediately following World War I, when both Albers and Moholy, independently, made the decision to reject representational art in favour of a rigorously abstract language. Both artists were soon attracted to the Bauhaus, which was founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius with the aim of creating a synergy between fine arts and traditional crafts. During the creative explosion of their Bauhaus years, Albers and Moholy embraced a wide range of media, including painting and photography, glass and newly invented plastics, furniture and graphic design. Following the rise of the Nazis and the closure of the Bauhaus in 1933, both artists left Germany, eventually settling in different regions of the US. The second part of the exhibition traces how they developed their art and teaching in an entirely new context, establishing a deep and enduring influence on generations of American artists and designers.
By uniting Albers and Moholy in a posthumous dialogue, this exhibition poses questions about the utopian belief in art’s power to transform both the individual and society at large. At the same time, it explores the transition of modernist ideas from 1930s Europe to post-war America.
This exhibition is curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Curator, assisted by Maeve Polkinhorn, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern