László Moholy-Nagy. EM 3 (Telephone Picture). 1923

László Moholy-Nagy EM 3 (Telephone Picture) 1923

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 519 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

These works were produced by an enamel factory in Weimar, Germany, according to instructions given by the artist. Moholy-Nagy later wrote that he placed the order by telephone, thus providing the paintings with their unofficial title. While the three works share an identical abstract, geometric composition, EM 1, EM 2, and EM 3 were made at large, medium, and small scale, respectively. Each painting’s glossy enamel surface features a single strip of black that extends from top to bottom and two abstract shapes formed by lines of various thicknesses that intersect perpendicularly.

After encountering the work of the Russian avant-garde at an exhibition in Berlin in the early 1920s, Moholy-Nagy was persuaded by these artists’ belief that a revolutionary society demanded a radically new artistic language. He incorporated these ideas into his teaching at the Bauhaus, the influential German school of art, architecture, and design founded in Weimar in 1919 whose curriculum embraced modern technology as integral to art. By rejecting unique, handmade artwork in favor of serial mechanical production in his “telephone pictures,” Moholy-Nagy emphasized the role of the modern artist as a producer of concepts rather than a craftsman physically involved in the making of the work.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

These works were produced at a Weimar enamel factory following the artist’s instructions. The works share the same abstract, geometric composition, their scale changing in mathematical progression by doubling in size. Moholy-Nagy had the enamel pictures made around the time of his appointment to the Bauhaus school in April 1923. He later claimed to have ordered these works by telephone, underscoring the role of the artist in the technological age as a producer of ideas, not objects.

Gallery label from 2019

Shortly after joining the faculty of the Bauhaus art school, in Weimar, Germany, in April 1923, Moholy had Construction in Enamel 2 and 3 made at a local enamel factory. He would later claim to have ordered them by describing them over the telephone, exaggerating both his distance from the manufacturing process that produced them and the degree of technological mediation involved. In doing so Moholy presented the artist in the modern age as producer of ideas rather than things. While sharing the same abstract geometric composition, the works use a mathematical progression to change its scale, highlighting the conception of the image as transferable data.

Gallery label from Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013.
Porcelain enamel on steel
9 1/2 x 6" (24 x 15 cm)
Gift of Philip Johnson in memory of Sibyl Moholy-Nagy
Object number
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].

Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

1922 - 1946, László Moholy-Nagy, Dessau and Chicago.
1946 - ?, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy (1903-1971, the artist’s widow), Chicago and New York, inherited from the artist.
By 1964 - 1971, Philip C. Johnson (1906-2005), New York and New Canaan, Connecticut, purchased from Sibyl Moholy-Nagy.
1971, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as gift from Philip Johnson.

Provenance research is a work in progress, and is frequently updated with new information. If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please email [email protected] or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit https://www.moma.org/research-and-learning/circulating-film.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].