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Sibyl Moholy-Nagy discusses the art of her husband, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

BROADCAST: Jun. 10, 1969 | DURATION: 00:33:43


On the day before the opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, talks about the art of her husband, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Mrs. Moholy-Nagy said her husband believed in self discipline and the sacrifice to learn. In addition, she explained that her husband didn't believe in focusing on one type of material for his art but rather he worked with different types of materials like oil on canvas, steel, and plexiglass.


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Studs Terkel Here in the corridors of the Museum of Contemporary Art, it's a day before an exhibition of the works of one of the most remarkable men -- artists and craftsman of the century. Certainly one of the great teachers of our time, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, was founder of the New Bauhaus here, Institute for Design, School for Design. And having read his wife and colleague's book, the biography of Moholy-Nagy, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy is here as guest for the opening of this exhibition at the at the museum. I'm thinking of the power of this man, your husband and colleague. How how applicable today, as we look upon one of his last works. In 1946 he died, and I remember in your book you pointed out he asked for something too. He heard of a nuclear bomb. He also thought of the positive power of it, too, didn't he?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, very much so, yeah. He, being by nature such an extraordinary optimist, he never could really believe that anything could be only destructive. You know, he -- all his life believed that science would be the great liberator of man. And I think it had to do -- he spent his childhood on a very remote farm in Hungary, and he always told me you know, this idea about the dignity of labor and that sort of thing, I guess if you have seen how exploited these peasants were, he felt that science was really the liberating force. And he couldn't believe that something like nuclear science would be totally destructive. This is why he felt [that way?]--

Studs Terkel Let's go back--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah--

Studs Terkel To this beginning because it led up, in a sense, to his concept of the nuclear age.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel He was in a sense prophetic, back to the beginnings. He always had this feeling, didn't he? That within man were these great -- within every man were these great possibilities.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy This made him such a fantastic teacher, that he literally and I mean this was not said, this was lived, he believed in the creative potential of each individual, and that was the task of the teacher even with with heartbreaking labor and with absolute putting his whole energies on the line, to bring out that creative power in each individual. You know, [I'm? I was?] always thinking about this during the war. The school was almost extinct because we lost all our students, and we couldn't get any raw material for the workshops and so on. And so he had this idea that one should train, you know, nurses and people like that for working creatively with injured war veterans. And he wrote a very beautiful pamphlet called, "Better than Before", in which he felt that one should make these men better, instead of having them do ridiculous things, you know. And it was terribly difficult to get out of these old maids, you know, Red Cross workers and so anything. And he literally forced them into seeing what could be done in in photography, in photograms, in creative typography and they said, "Well, we've never done anything like that before. How can you ask us to to tell these veterans, wounded veterans--" He said, "Look, if you believe in it you can do it."

Studs Terkel Yes, yes. This particular point, Mrs. Moholy, Mrs. Moholy-Nagy, this point. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, I'm talking to now. And the exhibition will go on through -- it begins, the exhibition begins--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Nineteen-nineteen, are the earliest is, 1919.

Studs Terkel From 1919 to '46.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel But here at the museum, it begins on Monday the second.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel Monday, June 2nd through?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy July fifteenth.

Studs Terkel Through July fifteenth. But before that, this this this credo of his, within every person these -- he was also involved as a teacher. Now, what attracted him, obviously here at the School for Design, at the New Bauhaus, but always the fact that he was involved with the students. It was a give and take all the time, wasn't it?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, well, he felt, I'm going to speak about this this afternoon you know, but perhaps it's most characteristic when he came here, he gave a lecture at the -- in the big ballroom at the Knickerbocker Hotel. And his command of English was that of a beginner's basic English. And he obviously worked with his feet, his arms, his le- hands, with everything to explain his philosophy. And afterwards he said to me, "And you know the most marvelous thing was about these people in Chicago? They laughed. They really laughed, they really loved -- they laughed as if I were not a professor at all."

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And he never was, wanted to be called that. He always wanted to have a workshop community in which he either sat with them on the floor, worked with them in a workshop. And the tragedy, of course, was that in 194- at the end of '45 and all the veterans came back, you know, suddenly instead of having 100 students whom we all knew by name, he had 200, 300, 400--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And so on. And that defeated him very badly, because this was not a way he felt he could teach.

Studs Terkel I remember very well the circumstance, you know, hanging around generally.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Mhm.

Studs Terkel And it was the hunger of these -- first it was the fact that he drew them, as a teacher.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel They knew that there was a man who gave of himself, as well as of his knowledge.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel And so the the hunger of these young vets to learn from Moholy.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah. And you know the amazing thing is his loyalty. I mean, these people who have worked with him, who did work with him -- You know, I'm a professor of architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and I I meet so many all over America, I meet these people. And these -- sometimes it was not more than one semester, and it gave them an inspiration which lasted a lifetime.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy You know, this is a marvelous part. And it is, of course, one thing. It is doing a thing completely and not making division lines. For Moholy, I remember being of course his wife and knowing he had not a very strong health. And you know he died at 51 of leukemia. He -- I would say "Look you cannot do that. It's too much." And he said "Look. It's like a pack of cards. I -- It's all the same pack. I just shuffle them and I have a constellation which is painting, and a constellation which is typography, and a constellation which is Saturday morning's childrens' class. But it's all the same -- vision is indivisible."

Studs Terkel You know, I think we have to dwell on this very much right now, Mrs. Moholy, if we may, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. This particular credo of Moholy-Nagy that there's a totality, in fact you subtitle the book "Experiment in Totality." In contrast to the specialist.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Mhm, that's true. That's absolutely true. In in fact, if Moholy had any enemy or anybody with whom he could get very, very tough it was specialists, because he felt that fracturing knowledge was an un-creative sort of thing. And particularly engineers, he felt, who could contribute so much. You know, he had a very prophetic vision of this all to come. Today you see you know these young people being so fascinated with strobe lights and with all these things you see here -- anticipations of that you know. But he felt that the engineers were having you know a private club in which they closed themselves up and did not participate.

Studs Terkel And he also saw this, did he not -- it's so connected with life itself. I remember in your book you speak of the time when he was at the Bauhaus and Weimar and at Dessau, when he and Gropius finally had to leave because the specialists were taking over.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And it foreshadowed something else, did it not?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, sure, sure. Well, this was a problem that of course, I mean he died at the end of '46, but I remember a very, very bitter conversation with the Veterans Administration here in Chicago where the Veterans Administration said, "Look, we want our veterans to take specialized, so-called, skilled courses." And Moholy said, "What do you mean by skilled courses?" He said, the man said, you know, I'll never forget it when Mr. Oppenheimer, he said, "Well, we don't want all that long-haired stuff." You know, we want our guys to get as fast as possible, a skill with which they can make dollars and cents. And Moholy said, "But if it will make them unhappy, they will be fractured men."

Studs Terkel Yes, yes.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy But of course, it's very hard to make people see that--

Studs Terkel Yes, yes.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy You know. But this idea of the total man was really what moved him.

Studs Terkel And I'm thinking, too, of also the political aspects at the time of specialization.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, sure.

Studs Terkel At that time the specialist was co- unconnected, not connected with other men. Also foreshadowed the coming of Nazi totalitarianism--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Of totalitarianism, oh, definitely. You know, I mean, as long as the individual doesn't interest you anymore, you are you are moving in that direction, you know. And this has been the great misunderstanding, I think, also in my field, in architecture, you know. This specialization in in into an architecture, which is completely separated from the human scale. And this is what he hoped he could, he could forestall. What I find very gratifying about this show here is that it comes back to Chicago, because you know Chicago has not the best reputation in the world. [laughter] It's always considered the cold, you know commercial, make money, get out city, you know. And for me, I don't see Chicago that way because it gave Moholy his chance. And you know, a man like Walter Paepcke, without out whom this whole thing would have been totally impossible, or the two Spiegel brothers from the Spiegel mail order house. I mean people like that, who literally put up the wherewithal to make this possible.

Studs Terkel Even here after watching this one throughout the museum.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel The various substances he worked with, every fabric, isn't there?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah yeah yeah yeah.

Studs Terkel Every material.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy This is what I have so very much against, so much of the modern art today. That these artists no longer strike out in in different media, different forms. They have one specialty, and they just go on with that one specialty -- a cast iron or whatever it is, you know. But I think a real artist translates all his emotional experiences, like the atomic bomb. Like we have this place out in Somonauk, Illinois, you know, and so many of the paintings were inspired by -- the strange light combinations there and so on.

Studs Terkel So it's light and space.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Light and space, yeah.

Studs Terkel He saw something in this -- following World War One came a sort of revolution, a different change in the at- in the at- attitude of the artist in society.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah--

Studs Terkel [Some were?] cut off, some became bought.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel But Moholy saw something else.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy He saw, of course being -- you know he had been in the First World War and had been severely wounded and very -- was terribly had been terribly depressed about it, and then he said out of it came this beautiful unification idea in the 1920s. But the world wasn't ready for it. So he believed he believed that the Second World War would have this effect that people would really feel that now there was one world, you know, and he had planned a very large trip to all sorts of countries -- he spoke many languages -- where he would speak about this. And then he fell ill, you know, and that was tragedy.

Studs Terkel Then he also, not only the material, the different media, the different forms. He always believed that--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, sure. Movie and everything. Photography, typography, theater, very much interested in theater, product design. There was no specialization. And you can [follow? funnel?] it really how, let's say the idea in a painting would be translated into a photogram, how a photogram would be translated into a stage design.

Studs Terkel You used the word

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy photogram. That's interesting. What's a photogram? Yeah. There's a difference between a photograph and a photogram. A photograph is made with a camera. It's a real subject. And a photogram you just have the light sensitive paper in the dark room and you put forms on it, and then you just expose the paper very quickly to light flashes. You will see down in the basement some very beautiful--

Studs Terkel Here, too, his credo, isn't it?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel The idea there's a totality involved, like Schwitters was a big influence on him, wasn't he?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Oh, yeah, for, you see for one winter, dismal winter, when there was this dreadful inflation in Germany, he and Schwitters shared the studio. And we have here a very funny collage from that time. There isn't too much of that time left, because they were so poor and their material was usually burlap or cardboard or so. But one here in the exhibition is one very funny one of that time. And well, you see the idea was not really to create art art masterworks, but the idea was to translate what you felt emotionally inside of yourself as a message. You know, Moholy's most famous word, which I have always liked so much was that he said, for me, everything I do is a flaschenpost. Now, flaschenpost is a German word for a sealed bottle, which in the old days sailors used to throw into the water--

Studs Terkel Oh, and throw the message in.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy In a message.

Studs Terkel I love that.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And it's called a flaschenpost.

Studs Terkel I love that.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And Moholy always felt that all his his work, whatever he did, was a flaschenpost. He never thought himself as a creative genius.

Studs Terkel But that flaschenpost, in a sense--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Isn't it a lovely idea?

Studs Terkel Is almost a symbol of everything. In the bottle his message to man--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah sure.

Studs Terkel His life.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And you see to him it didn't matter at all on which coast it would land or whether the person who picked it up would be old or young. And do you know there was a very moving aspect in that in 19, oh, 43 or so, when the school really was on hard times during the war, they formed here a group of friends of the Institute of Design, and Mr. Paepcke was very instrumental in organizing it. And you know some of these people you would never have thought, they were the most unlikely people to get an interest in this. We had a bookkeeper here, who died in the meantime, Mr. Buchholtz, and he was working for a large cigar chain store chain. And he would come and work as a bookkeeper, and each time he got 30 dollars he would donate it back to the fund of the friends of the school. Isn't that wonderful? You know--

Studs Terkel He caught -- isn't this also a part of it, that all sorts of people were attracted to him because he also, in his students, he drew ne- no distinction between the artists and craftsmen.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Oh, not at all. Not at all. And and you see this idea that everybody has some inner talent, that nobody is really hopelessly untalented, gave these people an enormous self-confidence. You know they felt one day the right source would be tapped, you know?

Studs Terkel You would never say to a student, this is bad or this is good.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy No, not at all. Not at all, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel He'd find something in that student.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy We had out in the cou- this place, you know, Mr. Paepcke gave us this abandoned farmhouse in Somonauk, Illinois, where we ran the summer school, and there was a bulldozer operator there who was keeping the highways in order. We called him Mr. Tomato because he was a fat red man. And well, gradually he was so interested and he brought little drawings which his daughter had made and his son had made. And so Moholy, dead seriously without the slightest bit of condescension, would give him [crits?] about it and encourage them to do this and encour- I mean, this is a real teacher. This is a real teacher, yeah.

Studs Terkel This is a [unintelligible]. Also, what comes out in your book and from friends of mine--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel Who who worked with students of Moholy, his intuitive air, his passionate involvement with -- never detached.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, no, yeah yeah.

Studs Terkel He would become so single-minded he'd forget where he was, wouldn't he.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah. Now this, of course, was a great problem, you know, with his health that he became so -- he had absolutely no instinct of sparing himself. And during the war these years were very bad and--

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about the time though, when you met him. You were a film scenario writer.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel And you went with him, as you did a film of the gypsies. You should tell the story. This is a great story.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy I mean, this was the characteristic aspect, you see Moholy himself was an artist and he was not a very strong man, and he was physically not at all a hero, but he was always putting himself for the devotion for his work into situations where he had to play the hero. And he had to, being Hungarian, of course, the farm boy, he had always seen these bands of gypsies as a as a young boy and he admired them enormously, although they were really treated as outcasts. And he discovered a large gypsy camp on the outsides of Berlin, and he wanted to make a movie because somehow again so many of these things he anticipated that they wouldn't survive, and they didn't, they were exterminated then later under Hitler. And so we went there to work, to to do a movie, but he had not counted with two things. One was, that the gypsy does says that if you photograph a child, you take away its soul.

Studs Terkel It's a curse.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And it's a curse, you know, that was one aspect. And the other was that we we wanted one of those big tribal fetes there, and Moholy decided that we would donate, although we had no money at all, we would donate the beer and everything and then they would have one of those big tribal fetes and we would then be able to photograph it. So, the night before we brought all the supplies there and then next morning when we came back everybody was lying in back the wagons dead drunk. They had simply drunk the whole beer and eaten everything before we had our -- and Moholy was incensed because he felt they had broken their word, you know. So, he started to to argue with the elder there, and the elder simply drew a pistol and started to shoot at him, you know. And he had to run for his life and he wasn't hurt, but it was not a very good experience. But later, for instance, in London he became very close friends with Julian Huxley. And this is really one of Moholy's enormous gifts was to have these lifelong friendships with with people, which was very wonderful. And Huxley had just built the new Whipsnade Zoo and he decided, Moholy decided, to make a movie on this new zoo, and so he decided to climb on top of the orangutan cage in order to have a better view of that new construction. And the orangutan got terribly mad and started to pull on Moholy's legs through the grate of that cage. [laughter] Moholy was snow white and absolutely mortified.

Studs Terkel But still photographing.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy He still went on. [laughter]

Studs Terkel That's -- isn't this the point though, also with the gypsies, here he is being shot at, he was still photographing.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah yeah, photographing.

Studs Terkel Because the single-mindedness -- he had to get that.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And he did the [unintelligible] with the "Lobsters," this movie. You will see all these movies here, by the way. The museum is going to show them. And he was so seasick in that lobster boat, but he did [laughter].

Studs Terkel He had to shoot the film.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy But he had to shoot the film.

Studs Terkel You know, before we talk about what we'll be seeing here too for the next month and a half at the museum of Moholy's work, in all forms, this matter of friendship -- people. No matter whom he saw or what, no matter what the language difficulty, there was something about him that would--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Hmm, Well I mean he had this, you know, I think, I believe and I think I'm now old enough, I think, to know it's true, if you yourself are without suspicion or without malice, it it reflects on other people. I mean, of course there might be cases where you are taken advantage of, but Moholy had a purity in his face and in his whole way of approaching people which which which convinced people, you know.

Studs Terkel I think of these marvelous stories in the biography. By the way, I think it's available to [unintelligible].

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy No, it comes out the fifteenth of June comes a new edition--

Studs Terkel Fifteenth--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy From the Massachusetts MIT Press. And it will be available for 2.75.

Studs Terkel It's called the--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy "Experiment in Totality".

Studs Terkel "Experiment in Totality", the story of Moholy-Nagy by his wife and colleague, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy. Remarkable. And you speak of friendships, there are so many stories I want to -- when you and he visited Brancusi.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, well you know, Brancusi was a hermit and he lived in a in a in a basement in Paris completely by himself. And I said to Moholy, "You know we can't go." He said, "Of course we can go there." So, we went there and Brancusi was somehow the most angelic man I've ever seen. So, we went there and Brancusi started all these little bases of his on which his sculptures revolved. And it was very moving, but the real strange aspect of that visit was when we went to Mondrian, and Mondrian had put a bed sheet on the floor of his studio and was operating with some black and red paper strips and he moved them, absolutely, I mean fractions of inches this way and that way. And there was a ladder like this one here, one of those large stepladders, and he was perching on that ladder and Moholy was down on his knees. And Mondrian would say in French: "Now, just a little bit, [say?] no no no no no! This is too much too far, a little to the -- no, [unintelligible] do you think we should--" and so on. It went on and on. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Here these two men are on chairs--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah yeah.

Studs Terkel And stepladders, wholly oblivious to anything else, they wanted to find the perfect rectangle.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, sure. Exactly!

Studs Terkel That

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy

Studs Terkel

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy

Studs Terkel was their whole life. Exactly! Exactly! That was their whole life. Yeah, yeah. And so the scene described is very funny and

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy marvelous. Now, the funny part was that I was a young a young woman, and I was very worldly and I I liked beautiful clothes and things like that, and I I felt very strange in that company and I was -- if I hadn't been so madly in love with Moholy [laughter] I wouldn't have known what to make about it [laughter]. But I was so [sold?] and I I would have done anything. Now today, of course, I have great respect for this sort of thing, but when I was very young I thought sometimes it was a little difficult.

Studs Terkel The scene here also, this continues, there's a humor throughout and the humor is of a man who is a complete artist and craftsman. The humor is in a world that seems detached and cold, he is the innocent.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel Going through and changing lives of people.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Well, you know one of the funniest stories was when we are still having this, you know when he came here Marshall Field gave us the Marshall Field family mansion and that was on Prairie Avenue. And Moholy had this photo class, and he spoke very poor English and I learned English when I was a very small child. And so I was with him to translate you know and we had, this is not in the book because it's really very funny, and he had this photo class and he had selected a beautiful boulder on, with there were ten young men, on on the lake shore. You know, there's these big stone chunks there with a white boulder that had brown veining and on it written in in red with dripping paint was "John F___ Mary." You know, the old the old invitation. [laughter] And Moholy said, "Look, this is marvelous! You know, that stone, and the blue behind and that red paint is just perfect!" You know. And I went up to him, and of course his students were just in stitches, you know. And so I went I went up to him and I started to whisper in his ear in German telling him that he couldn't-- He said, "Don't translate. This is not necessary here. I get this perfectly here. Now will you please stand over there and observe the beautiful light reflection on this?" So, when we came home I said, "Look, I told you what it means. It means this in bed." He said, "Why do I have you with me? Why didn't you tell me?" [laughter]

Studs Terkel Well, since you said that I must tell one. Maybe you know this, maybe you don't [unintelligible]. My friend, I'm talking about the actor, Lou Gilbert--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel Whose whose friend was a disciple of Moholy.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Oh, yeah.

Studs Terkel Nate Lerner. Tells the story of Moholy talking to a group of women about the power of a certain camera. This camera was so magnificent it could [unintelligible] for blocks. And he's on the wall. You see the sign near the beach, Oak Street beach, and the sign is, "F___ You." Marvelous! [unintelligible] marvelous! He said, "Look at the wonderful thing!" [laughter] He mispronounced the word, of course, but--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, well he was a very, very naive. I could tell stories which are really hair-raising, but--

Studs Terkel [unintelligible]

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy It was absolute pure.

Studs Terkel The purity--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Studs Terkel But also that matter we come to something else now. Throughout his -- the relationship of Moholy and the young.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Mhm.

Studs Terkel Now there's something you pointed out to me as very significant, very much. After he fled, when he fled Germany, Nazi Germany. He was in Amsterdam. And there he saw, he was surrounded by the young and he realized how the young in Nazi Germany, outside of being in the military, no longer played a role in the daily life.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Mhm, mhm. Yeah, that's absolutely true. Yeah. Yeah. And this was so sad, you know, because he felt it it cut out a whole generation. And if he had been, lived long enough to go back to Germany he would have found confirmed what he found that a whole generation was really paralyzed, you know--

Studs Terkel You know, even in Germany, if I may, the question of the young.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel In our society and all societies challenging and being called names.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel Moholy, I wonder if Moholy today, this relationship to the young, what he would have contributed.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Well, I -- it would have been difficult because Moholy believed in discipline. I mean not in a imposed discipline, but in a self-discipline. He felt that all work was self-discipline, you know. And, of course, I was totally raised by him in that aspect, and I find as a teacher of architecture that the greatest problem today is the total opposition in the young, you know, toward any self-discipline whatsoever, and Moholy wouldn't have liked this. He would have -- the the liberty of it he would have understood, but the lack of of sacrifice for your own -- to learn you know to to, that he would not have understood, you know. That is, and I think -- and this was a thing that he sometimes got into trouble with the students because he was a, he he demanded of every student the absolute limit of what he himself could contribute.

Studs Terkel He gave of himself.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy He gave of himself so he demanded of every student in return the best he could give, you know. And there were people, let's say, like Arthur Siegel who was a photo student and then became the head of the photo workshop, who understood that and who became a perfectly marvelous craftsman.

Studs Terkel You know, thinking of Moholy, I realize you have many things to do today, but there's so much to say, [laughter] if you want to come back. This is the ope--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel This is the day before the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Moholy's works. On it whether it be, oil on canvas, or whether it be Plexiglass, or whether it be steel or whether it be Formica.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy He used everything became that, what's that in that bottle, what do you call that bottle again?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Flaschenpost.

Studs Terkel In the flaschenpost--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Flaschenpost. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Everything was in that bottle, in a

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy

Studs Terkel sense, his life. Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure sure. Yeah. We come back, though, to the matter of his following the machine, that was it, earlier you were saying something about--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Well, about technology, I said that--

Studs Terkel The machine.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy That Moholy saw, of course, he belonged -- he was born in 1895 so, he belongs to this generation before electronics. The machine then, the mechanism of the machine, the precision of the mechanism was still really the great miracle. You know, a tractor, a transformer, a dynamo, was still a great thing, a great symbol. We are moving today, I think, in a different direction. But to him, again, the precision, the the ability of man to harness power, to make power his servant, you know, was -- he was without any any worship of the machine, but he felt that man's power to harness machines, to harness electricity, harness water, and so on was a great thing and promised an enormous liberation. And this was, for him, a very important thing. It's interesting that he, of course, had hoped for all sorts of new art media. For instance, enormous light displays from large klieg lights and and things like that, which would play on [clouds?] and create outdoor spectacles, fantastic outdoor spectacles and so on. And then he very often said, well, you know and then people always say, why do I still paint in addition to doing these new things. And he said, "I always have to come back to the canvas" for -- he called it incubation -- "for the incubation of my ideas. I always have to come back." It was a point of departure, so to speak, and from that he could then project these- You see here in this painting, which you see before you, which belongs to Mrs. Paepcke, you see this is actually two light beams crossing. You know, this is what he had in mind. Two enormous light beams--

Studs Terkel At the moment, it's an oil on canvas we're looking at--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel That have a variety of colors and [unintelligible]--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy And it's two enormous beams over- overlapping with each other. And this is what he wanted to see, he said, Look how marvelous this will be. You have a huge crowd in the city and on a Sunday aft- Sunday evening or what they can look out. In particularly in Chicago he felt over the lake, you could make the most fantastic light light displays, you know, by over-cutting.

Studs Terkel Wasn't this it, too, that he saw the power of light, space, all the possibilities and also a man's creativity?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, sure.

Studs Terkel Remember when one, you were describing one incident where he's talking to students, and he's describing the work of old craftsman in this building. What they did with the paint and all--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel And a student was smoking a cigarette. And he took the cigarette of the student. He let the smoke go around it. And he said, If I could grab that.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel If I could grab and harness that.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Well, at one time he came home and I thought he looked absolutely like a ghost, and I said what happened. He had gone down to Randolph Street, the crossing of Randolph and State, and he had been standing in the middle of the traffic there for half the night with an open camera, photographing with an open camera the light of the the traffic lights and the automobile lights. And it's one of the most beautiful set of slides I've ever seen.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy But he was -- the policemen came and they told him to get out of it and he would [bail?] you know, but he just stayed. He just stayed and did this.

Studs Terkel But always there is re- this recurring theme Mrs. Moholy, with Moholy-Nagy. There's a theme of the connection of life of man and all the elements all the aspects. So, he also resented those who used technology for technology's sake [unintelligible].

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Oh, entirely, entirely. You see you will see one domineering, dominating factor in all these paintings, although they are so different. There is no horizon line. You know all of these paintings, no matter on what material, are floating in space. To him this idea of the perspective and that the horizon line was finished. Man now was capable of projecting himself into a space which was no longer limited. And I I am sure he would have, in contrast to me, I'm usually the historian, but in contrast to me he would have delighted in this whole space business. He would have followed these flights in outer space with the greatest enthusiasm.

Studs Terkel He saw there no separation of substance and form.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy No. No. Yeah, yeah. But also no limit no limit to man's vision.

Studs Terkel No limit.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy I mean, the idea that man can now project himself into a total limitless round horizon would have absolutely delighted him. You see there in this painting there, which belongs to the Parker Pen Company over there this floating one, he would have -- oh, is this the one from the Art Institute? No, I think this is -- this is the Art Institute. This is Parker Pen, yeah.

Studs Terkel Mrs. Moholy-Nagy is pointing to that.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel You're amazed as you look upon these, the wildness

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy of the plethora of colors in control-- Yeah, he painted that the -- he started this a few days after the first atomic bomb explosion. Because he he felt that this nuclear power would create a completely new vision of the energetic field around the earth, you know. And he was very close friends with Mr. Kenneth Parker who was the who was president of Parker Pen, and he bought it from him. This whole idea of of limitlessness, of man being the master of space was really the--

Studs Terkel You know, as you're saying this I can't help but be moved to the last part of your book, during the last days of Moholy when he was dying. The idea of transcending himself, you would talk to this. At that moment the nuclear explosion occurred, in that general time, he asked for his material.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah.

Studs Terkel We see it before us now. We opened the conversation with this, you spoke of that. The limitless man even transcending himself, the limitlessness--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Mhm, yeah.

Studs Terkel Even Moholy saw it about himself in life too, didn't he?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah. Yeah. It was unbelieve- he was the only leukemia case, they told me, that ever had been known -- he worked till three days before he died, you know, which is almost unknown. And he went, ten days before he died, he went to New York to a big conference. He literally transcended his dying body. This was the incredible part about it.

Studs Terkel There's one other aspect we have to touch upon. It's in your book, too, and it's humorous, but it's also part of Moholy's life. The idea of joy and fun and play.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah. Yeah.

Studs Terkel Moholy explained to the in English athletes how happy he was they lost.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy [laughter] Yeah.

Studs Terkel They couldn't understand it. [Is it because he wasn't having fun?].

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Yeah, that's very funny. Well, we went to [Eton?] and they were losing in the Olympic Games in 1936. And and Moholy said to them, "But how wonderful you lost!" You know [laughter]. And they thought he was making terrible fun of them. And Moholy said, "But look, the Germans are dreadful because they do this no longer for fun. They do this for competition. They want to beat out the world. While you, you do it for fun. You do it for sport in the real sense," you know. And they thought he was making fun of them, you know.

Studs Terkel Isn't this also an extension of his own feelings about grades and beating someone else?

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Oh, sure, exactly.

Studs Terkel The thought that even the joy of education, the joy of learning.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Well, you know in this last conference before he died in in New York he was accused of being of being a dilettante. And he said, "Yes, of course. This is the greatest thing to be a dilettante, because a dilettante is a man who does things because he enormously enjoys what he's doing. And this is why why I'm doing it," you know.

Studs Terkel And thus we have, thus we have in Moholy, you might say, a combination of all totalitar- the "Experiment in Totality", the book of Mrs. Moholy-Nagy, who is about to leave now, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, will be reissued by MIT. Now, it's a remarkable work, but the exhibition here at the Museum of Contemporary Art that begins on June the second? It begins tomorrow June first. We're talking now on Memorial Day, and it'll extend through, it'll extend through--

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy July fifteenth.

Studs Terkel Through July fifteenth, and it's remarkable. There will be also films shown here as well as his works. The word is teacher. The word is artist. The word is man. Moholy-Nagy. Thank you very much.

Sibyl Moholy-Nagy Thank you very much, Mr. Terkel. It was a very, very great pleasure to be with you.