Collaboration to Conserve Artworks by László Moholy-Nagy

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Marcel Duchamp, Rotoreliefs, 1935

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  • Researchers will analyze pigments and binders in the metallic paints in Architecture (1920–21) to better understand the artist’s experimentation with properties such as reflectivity and absorption.
  • Analysis of the 1930 painting Tp 2’s support—an industrial plastic—will explore the artist’s zeal for modern materials and will assist conservators to optimize preservation strategies.
  • Moholy-Nagy painted on transparent acrylic supports that he modified by using heat and various tools. Researchers will investigate these techniques and the support material’s aging process, to guide conservators on how to display and treat works such as B-10 Space Modulator (1942).
  • Analysis of the unusual and poorly understood support material of Sil 2 (1933) will help scholars and conservators better understand and preserve the artist’s use of unconventional metallic substrates.
  • Investigators will determine how Moholy-Nagy achieved transparency and translucency, through the study of paint binders, pigment/binder ratios, and application techniques in paintings such as A II (1924).

Through a new partnership with Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago’s Center for Scientific Study in the Arts (NU-ACCESS), Guggenheim conservators will investigate the materials and techniques that László Moholy-Nagy employed in his work.

An artist associated with the Bauhaus who worked in a wide variety of mediums, Moholy-Nagy incorporated light, kinetics, industrial materials, plastics, and photography into his work in ways that were unconventional for the time. He pursued “optical techniques” that would allow him to “paint with light” and persistently sought ways to expand and transcend the traditional lexicon of easel painting using novel materials. The collaborative investigation with NU-ACCESS will allow the Guggenheim’s Conservation Department to better understand the material choices Moholy-Nagy made and to determine appropriate treatment methods for works in the collection. Click through the slideshow above for examples of what will be investigated.

Findings from the research will be used to prepare the Guggenheim collection works by Moholy-Nagy, for an upcoming exhibition co-organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“This pioneering program enables the Guggenheim Conservation Department, which does not have an in-house scientist, to utilize the expertise of the scientists at NU-ACCESS,” says Carol Stringari, Deputy Director and Chief Conservator at the Guggenheim. “The team is committed to a dialogue between scientists, curators, and conservators, who will examine each work together. This collaborative assessment will result in new scholarship on Moholy-Nagy, to be shared with the field in conjunction with the planned exhibition.

Learn more about the Guggenheim’s conservation projects and read more about NU-ACCESS at the program’s website. The NU-ACCESS program is made possible through a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.