The documentary “The New Bauhaus” celebrates the legacy of the versatile interdisciplinary artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, perhaps best-known for his photography and photograms, and the legacy of the school he started in Chicago. The film, directed by Alysa Nahmias, makes the case that although Moholy-Nagy’s body of work might seem diffuse because it spanned mediums, he deserves to be remembered as one of the great artists of the 20th century — as important as Picasso or Magritte, says Elizabeth Siegel, the photography curator at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The film argues that Moholy-Nagy was more concerned with approach than product; he had his students learn biology, for instance, seeking to give them new ways of looking at the world. He didn’t separate artistic pursuits from commercial interests or economic realities. The movie explains how he turned the rationing of metal during World War II into an opportunity to rethink products. As told here, his influence, and the work of his students, can be seen in advertising, the credits of James Bond films and in the shape of a Dove soap bar.
The film features informative commentary from academics and particularly from Moholy-Nagy’s daughter Hattula. One former student, Beatrice Takeuchi, says she found an exhibition on Moholy-Nagy too formalized — that he was at his best messing around. In a sense, she might be referring to this movie, which shares the artist’s biography in a conventional way. But it is a good primer, well illustrated.