An Arranged Marriage Between Art and Technology- The Vison of György Kepes

Photo by: Ivan Massar, from Black Star (courtesy of György Kepes Foundation, Eger, Hungary)
Source: Erste Foundation

…a scientists brain, a poet’s heart and a painter’s eyes.
(excerpt from 1981 Hall of fame Art Directors Club about G. Kepes)

The legacy of the Bahaus came to the US with the many immigrants leaving Europe during and after World War II and the Nazi persecution of Jews and socialist. An artist  briefly named on our text, (p. 329)  was  György Kepes (1906-2002) an assistant of Laszlo Moholy- Nagy.  This week entry would focus on  Kepes’ career. 

György Kepes was born in Selyp, Hungary and then moved to the capital where he was trained as impressionist painter at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. Influenced by the socialist avant-garde, Kepes abandoned painting and started searching for a medium that served more the community, and in his own words, “the alleviation of social injustice, and the inhumane conditions of the Hungarian peasantry.” During this period he turned to filmmaking.

In 1930, he moved to Berlin and worked as stage, publication and exhibition designer, and also started working for Moholy-Nagy in his Berlin studio, relocating  to London when Moholy-Nagy moved his studio to England in 1936. In London he met and married the artist Judy Appleby and in 1937, when Moholy-Nagy was offered to found the New Bahaus in Chicago, he moved to Chicago, to become part of the faculty. Kepes continued exploring his theories of design and the “education of vision” and in 1943 he went to work for the Brooklyn College. In 1944 he published the famousLanguage of Vision, a book based on the Gestalt psychology and strongly influenced by the Bauhaus philosophy. A detail on  the life of  Kepes and Moholy-Nagy,  is that in 1942 they  contributed with the US Army as advisors  on military and urban camouflage.  

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, School of Architecture and Planning , offered him a teaching position in 1947. Kepes continued teaching at MIT until his retirement in 1974. During his career, he collaborated with many architects, engineers and scientists with the ultimate goal in his mind of creating a visual design program for the institution. This came true  in 1967 with the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, CAVS.  Together with his work in academy, designed for Fortune Magazine, The Container Corporation of America, The Atlantic Monthly and Little Brown Book Publishing.

CAVS at MIT was conceived as a fellowship place for artists, where they could go to achieve their individual creative pursuits. People there worked in collaborations. The vision of Kepes was to absorb new technologies as an artistic medium, facilitating the collaborations among artists, scientist, engineers and industry. Initially, CAVS invited only established artists.  Among the first fellows were  Otto Piene, Vassilakis Takis, and Harold Tovish. Soon they were joined by Jack Burnham, Ted Kraynik, Wen-Ying Tsai, and Stan VanDerBeek. Later, the center opened its doors to artists at various points of their careers and a partial list of this  fellows includes Maryanne Amacher, Joan Brigham, Lowry Burgess, Peter Campus, Harriet Casdin-Silver, and Muriel Cooper. Researchers at CAVS have pioneered the use of technologies such as lasers, plasma sculptures, sky art and holography as tools of expression in public and environmental art.

Throughout his career, Kepes continued working as a designer, producing both small and large-scale works. The First and Second Church in Boston commissioned him to make stained glass windows. His paintings are included in various collections including the Brooklyn Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and the Whitney Museum.   In 1995 the Hungarian government endowed a museum in Eger, Hungary, devoted to Kepes’ paintings, drawings and photographs and his archives and a permanent collection of his photographs is in Hungary’s National Photography Museum.  His large scale work was considered “Environmental”. Examples of this work are Neon relief lights for Radio Shack, acoustic tiles for U.S. Gypsum , a programmed light mural for KLM, 5th Ave. office in New York and a Light Corridor for the Milan Triennale.  (5)

Examples of Kepes Dimensional Art
Source: ArtNet.com

Keeps died at 95 in Cambridge, MA. The Kepes Prize is presented annually at MIT.

It is overwhelming the vast scale of work of Kepes, varying from small book designs to the Sylvania light environment project, the Boston Harbor Project and many other urban projects for cities. To me, he was a visionary, a Renaissance man, with an ample vision of the world and a strong belief on social justice. Kepes influence is reflected on the work of people who were fellows at the center while Kepes was there, such as Joan Brighmam and the first fellow Otto Pienne.  The influence of the avant-garde, Bauhaus School and the WWII, came to the US with him and bloomed and continue to grow with the cutting edge, state of the art sanctuary for artists, scientist and engineers at the CAVS. When in the great Boston area, take some time to visit the CAVS as well as the MIT museum. I was there last year and it was worth the whole afternoon. 

I’ll finish with the following link, a moving review of this artist, written by his student and friend Otto Piene.  Leonardo on Line.  

References

  1. Archives of American Art. Oral history interview with Giorgy Kepes, 1968, Aug. 18 http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-gyorgy-kepes-11952
  2. Art Directors Club http://www.adcglobal.org/archive/hof/1981/?id=258
  3. Armadillo Central  http://www.armadillocentral.com/other-shows/gyorgy-kepes-shining-light-at-the-birth-of-media-art
  4. Art Net.com  
  5. Cambridge Forum Speakers http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/cfs2/gyorgy_kepes.php
  6. Dr. Leslie Room http://www.drleslie.com/Contributors/kepes.shtml
  7. Images of Otto Pienne https://www.google.com/search?q=otto+piene&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=d_SfUP_3N420igK85YGwBg&ved=0CD0QsAQ&biw=1309&bih=766
  8. Joan Brigham http://joanbrigham.com/portfolios/installations/
  9. Kepes, G. “The Language of Vision”http://books.google.com/books?id=zDWhvpEekFAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
  10. Lowry Burges, Space Related Art http://vimeo.com/23912760
  11. Maryanne Amacher (1938-2009) http://maryanneamacher.org/memorial/Maryanne_Amacher/Amacher_Archive_Project/Amacher_Archive_Project.html
  12. Massachussets Institute of Technology, MIT, Center for Advanced Visual Studies CAVS, Brief History. http://cavs.mit.edu/MEDIA/CenterHistory.pdf
  13. Meggs, P, Purvis W, Alston. Megg’s History of Graphic Design, Fifth Ed. , John Wiley and Sons, 2012
  14. Wikipedia
  15. György Kepes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gy%C3%B6rgy_Kepes
  16. Pienne, Otto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Piene
  17. Wechsler, Judith. Gyorgy Kepes http://judithwechsler.com/sites/default/files/publications/gyorgykepes.pdf
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