László Moholy-Nagy and Thomas Bartels
In the Exploratorium’s Seeing Gallery
September 22, 2005 – January 22, 2006
Well before the glowing hues of Ruebens and long after the expansive skies of the Hudson River School movement, artists have shown a remarkable appreciation for light. But it was in the twentieth century alone, well after the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879, that artists started to experiment with using actual physical lights as a visual or sculptural medium. The Exploratorium presents Light As An Artistic Medium 1930/2005, a dual installation that features one of the earliest and one of the most recent works that manipulate optics to create spectacular light phenomena. Hungarian-born László Moholy-Nagy is credited with the first real attempt and Berlin light artist Thomas Bartels is currently working in light as a sculptural medium. This exhibition on view from September 22, 2005 through January 22, 2006, and is free with admission to the Exploratorium. Thomas Bartels will be artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium from September 19th – 30th.
In 1930, Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy completed Lichtrequisit einer elektrischen Buhne (Light Prop for an Electric Stage), later known as the “Light-Space Modulator.” Originally created as a prop for the film, the artwork was one of the first attempts by an artist to use physical light as a sculptural medium. Moholy-Nagy described this kinetic sculpture as an "apparatus for the demonstration of the effects of light and movement.” This art machine rotated slowly and included a series of 70 multi-colored lights that flashed in a 2.5-minute cycle, and a reflective surface that cast a constantly changing field of light and shadows. At the Exploratorium, it can be seen at work in Lightplay; Black/White/Gray (1930), a film installation featuring László Moholy-Nagy’s device.
Aequator, by Thomas Bartels (co-presented by the Goethe Institute and the Exploratorium), is a sculpture that projects light. The light is focused through a transparent ring with the image of the equator on it, a panoramic picture of 36 single shots of a world map. A lens rotates very slowly around this picture, while the light in the center of the formation casts shadows and the projection of the equator line on the walls of the room.
Innovative Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) was a photographer, filmmaker, typographer, painter, sculptor, writer, graphic designer, stage designer, and teacher. His creative approach to art started in painting and progressed through experimentation with film, sculpture, and new media. He began his work with visual media during military service in World War I, creating more than four hundred drawings on military-issue postcards. His works were first exhibited in the National Salon in 1918. He became active in Budapest's artistic circles, only to flee the city in 1919 amidst political upheaval. He landed in Berlin and joined the faculty of the German Bauhaus School in 1923. Between 1923-28, he was a teacher of Bauhaus in Weimar, later in Dessau and then became an assistant to architect W. Gropius. In 1937, Moholy-Nagy moved to Chicago to become the director of the New Bauhaus, a school that promulgated its doctrines in America. When it folded after one year, he joined other former faculty members to establish the School of Design, which in 1944 became the Institute of Design in Chicago. He died of leukemia at age fifty.
Thomas Bartels was born in Göttingen, Germany, in 1960. He studied film at the Academy of Arts in Braunschweig and in 1986 became a founding member of the artists’ group, “Laboratorium.” Together with Martin Hansen, he founded the film production and distribution company Karofilm. In 1996, he was awarded with the prize for young artists from the ministry of culture of the federal state of Lower Saxony. Bartels works as a media artist, filmmaker, cinematographer and teacher of film and fine arts at academies of fine arts in Germany.