Moholy-Nagy created a large body of work in the comparatively short time span of approximately three decades, from about 1915 to 1946. An overview of Moholy-Nagy’s creative achievements vaguely reminds one of a piece of music, for example, Ravel’s Bolero, that starts off with one instrument and one motif and gradually adds more instruments and several variations on the motif. Starting with a snare drum and a flute, Ravel gradually builds the music into a powerful composition that finally integrates the contributions of an entire orchestra.
Moholy-Nagy’s earliest surviving works are the pencil and crayon drawings on military-issue postcards that he made during his service in the Austro-Hungarian artillery in World War I. He then added painting in watercolor and oil. After he arrived in Germany in 1920, he created reliefs of found objects, and then free-standing sculptures. He discovered the artistic potential of photography in the 1920s and developed his own distinctive style in camera photography, photograms, and photomontage (his photoplastics). In the late 1920s he began to work with motion pictures, integrating some film into designs for the stage. He created designs for trade expositions. After he left the Bauhaus in 1928, he incorporated photographic techniques into the commercial work he did for a living and he began to photograph in color. He shot color films after he had established his own School of Design in Chicago in 1939. At the time of his death in 1946, he was creating works in all of these mediums.
The Moholy-Nagy’s planned Catalogue Raisonné will present his work in the traditional manner, by medium arranged in chronological order. But as we proceed, the online presentation of works created during specific periods will enable the researcher to make comparisons across mediums. This will permit an evaluation of the contributions of various “instruments” to the “composition,” which consists of the techniques and objectives that Moholy-Nagy was concerned with at that point in time.