ANY TIME a new exhibition opens inside the famed Regenstein Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago, I know I'm going to be in for an exceptional experience. From a career-encompassing retrospective on Picasso to a detailed exhibition featuring the works of Magritte, I've been lucky enough to enjoy some of the best curation in the world right here in my own backyard. That streak continues with the Art Institute's latest exhibition: Moholy-Nagy: Future Present.
Prior to my visit, László Moholy-Nagy was one of those artists that seemed mysteriously popular. As a photographer, I would come across Moholy-Nagy's abstract prints and photograms from time to time. But I didn't have any context to me understand what made his work so unique. When I'd bump into paintings in galleries that bore his name, the mystery only grew. "I thought he was a photographer," I would tell myself.
Now, thanks to Future Present, I get it. Or at least I get his impact and his popularity. I'll try not to overstate this: Moholy-Nagy may be the most diverse, prolific artist of the twentieth century. He was a photographer, collage artist, painter, filmmaker, designer, and more. He was a professor and lecturer, helping to found the infamous American continuation of the Bauhaus right here in Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Design. He was a marketer and advertiser, a salesman both of his own work and the work of major corporations. In a career that lasted just a quarter century, Moholy impacted almost every major field that the art and design worlds touch.
The exhibition tracks his career and growth from some of his earliest paintings following the first world war right up to his untimely death in 1946 from leukemia. As you progress through each room, you get the sense that you are watching Moholy-Nagy's mind wrestle with each new technique or material or medium that he touches. It's a comforting experience for any creative. Seeing an artist's growth over time is the best reminder that progression doesn't happen over night. It takes years, and the process is subtle. It's only once you look back that you can see how far you've come.
Equally as astounding as the breadth and depth of Future Present's collection is the design of the exhibition hall. Each room feels like something Moholy himself could have designed (did I mention he designed exhibition spaces, too? No? Is anyone surprised?). Lines of sight are challenged by dividing half-walls on perpendicular angles and swooping half-circles, echoing the types of spacial relationships the artist himself enjoyed creating in his work.
These details show how committed the Art Institute is to creating a completely immersive experience for the viewer. Future Present is about more than hanging works on walls. It's about experiencing first-hand the profound impact that Moholy-Nagy had both here in Chicago and across the world. And in that singularly grand way, Moholy-Nagy: Future Present wildly succeeds.
So if you find yourself here in Chicago sometime between now and January 2, 2017, I can't recommend highly enough that you block off several hours and pay a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago and this breathtaking exhibition of the life and work of Moholy-Nagy.
The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 S. Michigan Avenue and is open daily from 10:30-5 and until 8 on Thursdays. Click here for more info on booking your next visit.