What is this curious work? It is called "EM 1 Telephonbild (Telephone Picture)", 1922/23, and it is being offered by Sotheby's New York in their evening sale of November 14. Why is it so important? It marks the culmination of an effort to replace traditional easel painting with a manufactured article literally turning the artist into a creator of ideas rather than of objects. If this reminds you of Marcel Duchamp's famous "Fountain" readymade from a few years prior you'd be on the right track.
Though the "Telephonbild" series "EM1", "EM2" and "EM3" had its roots in Dada, it was a springboard for Constructivism, Productivism and Performance Art and remains historically very important as well as aesthetically very lovely. The three works were exhibited together in 1924 in Galerie der Sturm, Berlin, and eventually the two smaller versions were purchased by New York's Museum of Modern Art.
László Moholy Nagy (1895-1946) went on to great success as a photographer, typographer, sculptor, painter, printmaker and master of industrial design, and his achievements in the avant-garde inspired many contemporary artists today. Despite his devotion to the ideas of producing machine made art for the masses, the "Telephonbild" series was the only time he applied this method in practice.
"EM 1 Telephonbild", 1922
Executed in 1923
Porcelain enamel on steel
37 1/2" x 23 3/4"
P.S. I am happy to announce that the MoMA did indeed acquire this marvelous work for a hammer price of $5.2 million (a little over $6 million with commissions). Looking forward to the first time the three are exhibited together!