Did Moholy-Nagy Phone In These Paintings?
As Moholy told it in 1944,
"In 1922 I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory's color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone, the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper divided in to squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position. (It was like playing chess by correspondence.)"
This was long before Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt's plans for art to be executed by someone else. It's also long before the L.A. brand of not-so-minimal conceptualism. But Moholy's tale has been contested. In a 1972 book the artist's first wife, Lucia, said that László went to the sign factory in person to place the order. He told Lucia, "I even could have done it by telephone."
Early abstractionists have been accused of backdating non-objective works in order to stake a claim for art-historic priority. But Moholy couldn't have wanted to forge conceptualist credentials in the 1940s. Conceptualism wasn't a thing. My guess is that Moholy embellished the truth for the sake of good story. Not in dispute is that Moholy hired a commercial sign painter to create works from his instructions, which he then displayed as "art." That was insane for the time, and it's one reason that Moholy resonates today.
"Edward Rusha designed the poster by calling up a commercial printer who made posters for concerts and boxing matches. Ruscha dictated all the copy over the phone, and his only directions on the type and style were to 'make it loud!'"
Baldessari's Commissioned Painting: A Painting by Edgar Transue, 1969) and Martin Kippenberger's billboards commissioned from commercial painters.
is doing another.
The Chinese factory Artisoo.com knocks off Moholy-Nagy telephone paintings in seven sizes, more that Moholy-Nagy offered.