Why isn’t Moholy as common a household name as Picasso? Or Magritte?” That’s the central question behind The New Bauhaus, and documentarian Alysa Nahmias asks it twice: First in the front, at the point when you’re starting to wonder who Moholy is and why are all these people making a fuss about him; and once more at the back, just as you’re starting to ask yourself that same question.
The answer is a little murky. One interviewee suggests Moholy did too much, had his fingers in too many pots to be easily classified. That’s certainly true; Moholy had no bottom when it came to creativity. From abstract painting to photography, from design to invention, from experimentation to teaching, there was seemingly no subject that didn’t interest Moholy, no moment where he wasn’t working.
Born László Weisz in Bácsborsód, Hungary in 1895, László Moholy-Nagy took his name from his maternal grandfather, Gusztáv Nagy, and the Serbian town of Mohol where he spent his youth. It was not a great time to be Jewish in Eastern Europe, and though Moholy joined the German Bauhaus school in the 1920s, he immigrated to America as the Nazi Party ascended in rank. He landed in Chicago in 1937, where he helped establish the School of Design, later renamed the Institute of Design.
Bauhaus was governed by the notion that design can improve every aspect of your life, from buildings to bars of soap. It was for everyone—design was the key to living a happier, fuller life in a modern world—and it was by anyone: Moholy was steadfast in his belief that everyone is talented. He wasn’t far off, and The New Bauhaus features several of his students whose work range from good to stunning.
They are not the only ones Nahima interviews in The New Bauhaus. A battery of intellectuals also weigh in, but it’s Hattula Moholy-Nagy who steals the show. She is the daughter of Moholy and wife Sibyl, and her relationship with her father echoes the question posed at the top.
The New Bauhaus hopscotches back and forth, from pre-World War II Budapest and Berlin to modern-day U.S.A. Nahima touches on multiple aspects of Moholy’s output and even manages to give the proceedings a touch of experimentation fitting of Moholy. His name isn’t as common as Picasso or Magritte—it’ll take more than one doc to conquer that—but The New Bauhaus is a worthy start.
The New Bauhaus (2019)
Directed by Alysa Nahmias
Written by Alysa Nahmias, Miranda Yousef
Produced by Alysa Nahmias, Petter Ringbom, Erin Wright
Opendox, Not rated, Running time 89 minutes, Opens June 25, 2021, Video On Demand.