Skip to main content

Gyorgy Kepes papers, 1909-2003, bulk 1935-1985

Kepes, Gyorgy, 1906-2001

Painter, Designer, Educator

Collection Information

Size: 21.2 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Hungarian-born artist, art theorist, and educator, Gyorgy Kepes, measure 21.2 linear feet and date from 1909-2003, with the bulk of the material dating from the 1935-1985. The papers document Kepes's career as an artist and educator, and as founder of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), through biographical material, correspondence, writings by Kepes and others, project files, exhibition files, printed material, sketchbooks, artwork, sound recordings and motion picture films, and photographic material.
Correspondence provides a wide range of documentation on all aspects of Kepes's career including his collaborations and friendships with artists, architects, writers, scientists, and fellow educators including Rudolf Arnheim, Alexander Calder, Henry Dreyfuss, Charles and Ray Eames, Clive Entwhistle, R. Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, S. W. Hayter, Jean Hélion, Laszlo and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Lev Nussberg, Robert Osborn, George Rickey, Saul Steinberg, Kenzo Tange, Robert Jay Wolff, and Jekabs Zvilna. Correspondence also documents the evolution of Kepes's vision for the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, which he established in 1967, and his subsequent leadership of CAVS at M.I.T. Records document his collaborations with students and fellows including Lowry Burgess, Jack Burnham, Piotry Kowalski, Margaret Mead, Otto Piene, Alan Sonfist, Athena Tacha, Vassilakis Takis, Philip Thiel, Harold Tovish, and Wen-Ying Tsai. Correspondents also include people who contributed to Kepes's "Vision + Value" series, including Michael Blee, Kazuhiko Egawa, Jean Hélion, and others. Correspondence includes three motion picture films, including what appears to be an early version of "Powers of Ten" by Charles and Ray Eames.
Writings include notes and manuscripts for articles and essays in which Kepes explored ideas evident in his books, "The New Landscape" and "Language of Vision," and submitted to publications such as "Daedalus," "Design," "Domus," and "Leonardo." Writings also include manuscripts for lectures, and draft manuscripts documenting Kepes's collaborative work with fellow M.I.T. professor Kevin Lynch on city planning, which culminated in Lynch's research project "The Perceptual Form of the City."
A small group of "Times Square Project" files documents Kepes's proposal for a lightscape in Times Square that was ultimately not realized.
Teaching files include sound recordings of circa five symposia and discussions held at M.I.T., the Illinois Institute of Technology, and elsewhere, some featuring Kepes and including Philip Johnson, Eero Saarinen and others.
Exhibition files include documentation of three exhibitions, including "Light as a Creative Medium" (1968) and a Kepes exhibition at Saidenberg Gallery (1968). They also record Kepes's involvement in designing the 1968 Triennale di Milano.
Printed material includes a substantial collection of announcements and catalogs for Kepes exhibitions, lectures, and other events, and includes catalogs and announcements for scattered exhibitions of his wife, artist and illustrator, Juliet Kepes. Clippings from newspapers and magazines include articles about Kepes, and contain some copies of published writings and designs by him. The series also includes sound recordings and motion picture films containing original material for a CBS television series "The 21st Century," probably as part of the episode "Art for Tomorrow," which appear to feature M.I.T. fellows Jack Burnham and Vassilakis Takis. Another motion picture film of an Italian documentary "Operazione Cometa" can also be found here.
Two sketchbooks contain pen and ink and painted sketches by Kepes. Artwork by Kepes includes original poster designs, caricatures, and many pencil, and pen and ink sketches and paintings on paper and board, including designs for stained glass. Artwork by others includes ink on mylar sketches by D. Judelson and Konstancija Brazdys, and a sketch by Harold Tovish. Also found are circa seventeen motion picture films and four sound recordings, the majority of which are untitled and by unidentified artists, but include films by M.I.T. fellows Otto Piene, Vassilakis Takis, Philip Thiel, Harold Tovish, Wen-Ying Tsai, and others.
Photographs are of Kepes, Juliet Kepes, and other family members; students, colleagues, and friends, including R. Buckminster Fuller, Serge Chermayeff, Harry Bertoia, Varujan Boghosian, Alexander Calder, Marshall McLuhan, Margaret Mead, Herbert Read, I. A. Richards, Saul Steinberg, and William Wurster; and of Kepes in his studio. There are also photos of exhibition installations in which Kepes's work appeared or which he designed, and photos of his artwork and of images for publications which he wrote or edited. Photos by others include artwork by established artists and work by students, as well as photographs arranged by subjects such as cityscapes, forms found in nature, light patterns, mechanical devices, and photomicrographs. A collection of lantern slides with similar content to the photos of artwork and photos by subject is also found in this series and includes a lantern slide of Picasso creating a design with light.
Some of the motion picture films were transferred to VHS in 2003 with a grant from the Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee.

Biographical/Historical Note

Gyorgy Kepes (1906-2001) was a painter, designer, art theorist, and educator in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Born in Selyp, Hungary, Kepes studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest, working with Moholy-Nagy in Berlin and London before joining him at the New Bauhaus (later the Chicago Institute of Design) in 1937. From 1946-1980 he was professor of visual design at M.I.T., as well as director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies from 1967-1974.


The collection was donated to the Archives of American Art by Gyorgy Kepes in a series of gifts between 1974 and 1993.

Related Materials

Additional papers of Gyorgy Kepes can be found at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Visual Studies Special Collection.

Language Note

A typescript is in Braille.

A letter and a clipping are in Dutch.

Nineteen letters, six typescripts, three clippings, and six exhibition catalogs are in French.

Several letters and printed items are in German.

Several letters, a manuscript, and printed items are in Hungarian.

Several letters and printed material are: In Italian.

Ten letters are in Russian.

Several letters, and printed items are in Spanish.


Funding for the preservation and transfer of 4 reels of motion picture film provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Location of Originals

  • Reel 1211: Originals returned to Gyorgy Kepes after microfilming.