Skip to main content

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

Biographical Note

Painter, designer, art theorist, and educator, Gyorgy Kepes (1906-2001), was born in Selyp, Hungary, and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Budapest. He worked with Moholy-Nagy in Berlin and London before joining him at the New Bauhaus (later the Chicago Institute of Design) in 1937.
Kepes taught courses at the New Bauhaus from 1937 to 1945, and published Language of Vision in 1944, summarizing the educational ideas and methods he had developed during his time at the institute. In 1946 he accepted a teaching position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) where he initiated a program in visual design.
In 1956 Kepes published The New Landscape in Art and Science, in which he presented images from nature that were newly accessible due to developments in science and technology, and explored his ideas for a common language between science and the visual arts.
In 1965, these ideas were apparent in Kepes's proposal of an expanded visual arts program at M.I.T., which would "build new as yet undetermined bridges between art and engineering and science," according to the minutes of an M.I.T. Art Committee meeting in March of that year. Kepes's vision dovetailed with M.I.T.'s vested interest in promoting the arts, and faculty and administrators were open to the argument that "The scientific-technical enterprise needs schooling by the artistic sensibilities." In 1967, they appointed Kepes Director of M.I.T.'s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS).
Kepes retired from the regular faculty at M.I.T. in 1967, to focus on his role as director of CAVS, where he worked to provide artists with opportunities for exploring new artistic forms on a civic scale through a working dialogue with scientists and engineers. Early fellows of the center included Maryanne Amacher, Joan Brigham, Lowry Burgess, Jack Burnham, Piotry Kowalski, Otto Piene, Vassilakis Takis, and Wen-Ying Tsai.
In 1965-1966 Kepes edited a six-volume series entitled Vision + Value, published by George Braziller, Inc. Each volume featured essays that centered around a core theme: The Education of Vision; Structure in Art and Science; The Nature and Art of Motion; Module, Symmetry, Proportion, Rhythm; Sign, Image, Symbol; and Man-Made Object. Contributions came from prominent artists, designers, architects, and scientists of the time including Rudolf Arnheim, Saul Bass, Marcel Breuer, John Cage, R. Buckminster Fuller, Johannes Itten, Marshall McLuhan, and Paul Rand.
Kepes experimented widely with photography, producing abstract images through the application of fluids and objects to photographic paper. He also took commercial work throughout his career, producing designs for all kinds of objects, including books and stained glass windows for churches. He returned to painting in the 1950s, and his development as a painter continued throughout his career at M.I.T., where he remained until his retirement in 1974, and beyond. His paintings, which were abstract and often incorporated organic shapes and hints of landscapes, can be found in museums such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Kepes received many awards during his lifetime, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1958); the Gold Star Award of the Philadelphia College of Art (1958); the National Association of Art Colleges Annual Award (1968); the California College of Art Award (1968); and the Fine Arts Medal from the American Institute of Architects (1968). In 1973 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an associate member, and became a full academician in 1978. He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.