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Light as a Creative Medium in the Art of György Kepes

The difference between Moholy’s time and our time to me is the difference between dreaming dreams and undreaming them, i.e. letting them come true.

(Otto Piene’s letter to György Kepes, 1967)1

The revolutionary verve of early-20th-century avant-garde art fed on a romantic belief in social progress and the possibility of creating a more habitable world. Attaining “the new union” of art and technique led to a transformation of the traditional forms of artistic expression. Committed artists tried, often in utopian schemes, to utilize the innovations of industrial civilization. However, the concepts of total environments were to remain arbitrary visions until it was recognized that the plans can be realized on the scales envisioned only if the wisdoms of several fields of knowledge are combined. The 19th-century attitude of “either-or,” which entrenched the professions, needed to give way to an “and-mentality” to enable symbiosis in the 20th century.2 In his Vision in Motion, László Moholy-Nagy proposed a “parliament of social design,” a collective workshop where artists and scientists harmonize the individual disciplines through consultation and the regular publication of findings. According to the last sentence of the proposal (and the book), this “international cultural working assembly” would “translate utopia into action.”3 Moholy’s purposeful pragmatism notwithstanding, the center he envisaged was to remain a plan for a long time: it was only in 1967 that the Center for Advanced Visual Studies was established at one of the most prestigious universities of the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Center was founded by Moholy-Nagy’s former colleague and collaborator, György Kepes.

The Theoretical Foundations of the Use of Light

György Kepes, Street scene with policeman, Berlin, 1930, © Kepes Institute, Eger.

Expelled from the Painting Department of the Budapest Academy of Art in the wake of a scandal-making exhibition, György Kepes moved to Berlin in 1930, to take up work with his countryman, László Moholy-Nagy, who was at the time best known for his filmic experiments.4 Shortly before sound film became common, cinema had, thanks in no small part to Russian and Soviet films, a truly strong social potential, and for artists dissatisfied with, or seeking new ways beyond, the traditional means of artistic expression, it seemed the medium that best served their social commitment. This was particularly true of the left-wing, radical “six new artists,” the Progressive Youths (Progresszív fiatalok), who gave their own versions of the strong social content of the films of Eizenstein, Vertov, Dovzhenko or Pudovkin.5 Closely associated with Kassák and his journal Munka, the group constituted the second generation of Hungarian avant-garde. Theirs was a surrealistic vision, a method that applied a strict order to the composition but augmented the logic of construction with the abstract, associative meanings of their own experiences, and a new understanding of spatial relations.6 The montage principle of Russian constructivism, a stylistic idiom that assimilated the content through the “simultaneous representation of internal and external landscapes,”7 was to become a key element of Kepes’s early aquarelles, and later of the photograms.

There were further important sources from which the young Kepes’s maturing intellect could draw inspiration. His ars poetica owed the Tolstoyan ideas of bettering man through education, themselves akin to the notions of theosophy, to his uncle.8 The founder of the Hungarian anarchist movement, Ferenc Kepes was a disciple of Eugene Heinrich Schmitt, and as such came to lead the neo-Gnostic circle, a loose community that was formed with the belief that knowledge itself is the highest level extension of the intellect, which would enable its possessor to get closer to Logos ruling the senses. Schmitt compared artistic understanding to scientific understanding, as something that relies on the emanation of the spirit and sensual impressions. He believed that by passing through the stages of understanding that are inherent in gnosis, man could reach the highest, divine state of self-consciousness and dignity. His observations on the general relationship of dimensions, which influenced not only architecture but the “sensual-pictorial” vision of the arts as well, reached the next generation through the agency of Ferenc Kepes.9 Schmitt’s ideas on boundless space consciousness had, together with the new findings of the psychology of vision (e.g. Gestalt psychology),10 a still underestimated impact on the visual language of György Kepes. His aesthetic and experiments with light could hardly be understood the neo-Gnostic intellectual and spiritual background he acquired in the company of his uncle. Light as the source of life, as a cosmological symbol that permeates the universe, was to be central for both his painting and teaching program.

It was by degrees, through the “ideal realism” of what redefined the method of seeing, photography, that György Kepes arrived at the metaphysical use of light. He was an active photographer while still at the academy. He met Éva Besnyő, who would accompany him to Berlin (and then move on to settle in Holland), in József Pécsi’s studio, and he was the one who presented Endre Friedmann (Robert Capa), whom he befriended in the German capital, with the 6x9 cm format Voigtländer camera that helped the latter to set out on the road to world fame.11 An exhibition in the spring of 1929, in Tamás Gallery, and the fifth show of KÚT (New Society of Artists) in 1930, at the National Salon in Budapest,12 reveal an artist with a social commitment and a keen eye for photography, a medium that “creates a permanent link between artists and the public.”13 The photocollage-based paintings he presented were inspired by the covers of the Arbeiter Illustrierter Zeitung, a German workers’ paper, designed by John Heartfield. The constructive spatial structure of one of these paintings is created from the “dialectic montage”14 of magazine illustrations, and the title of one of them, In memoriam Rosa Luxemburg, refers to the portrait cited.

“I never considered myself a photographer,” Kepes later recalled. “Photography was a temporary bridge between my world then and the new territory of film.”15 Temporary or not, he was acutely aware of the new possibilities of the medium. “Photography,” he later said to justify the choice, “is capable of revealing elements of morphology which it would take a lot of time to discover through painting.”16 The photos Kepes made whilst in Berlin between 1930 and 1934 (with a one-year gap) followed, in line with the “new vision” program László Moholy-Nagy outlined to explore the inherent properties of the medium, Russian-Soviet avant-garde photography in its dynamic concept of space. One of his first photographic self-portraits, composed with engineering precision, gives the impression of repeating El Lissitzky’s photomontage self-portrait: he appears in his attic studio, standing before his bellowed camera. Though several photographs are known from this period, in the first two stages of Kepes’s emigration (Berlin and London) he busied himself mostly with applied graphics and contributions to stage and visual designs, as well as filmic experiments.17

The Bauhaus in Chicago: Subjectless Photography as a Pedagogic Aid

When in the summer of 1937 László Moholy-Nagy followed Walter Gropius’s advice and accepted Norma K. Stahle’s invitation to head the New Bauhaus in Chicago, he lay great store by Kepes’s help in setting up the curriculum in a place that intended to be the fourth iteration of the school that was founded in Weimar in 1919. “When I came to this country to form a school of design”, wrote Moholy, “I asked Kepes to teach drawing and color and to develop a new type of creative discipline, the light workshop.”18

Thanks to Man Ray’s rayographs, Alvin Langdon Coburn’s vortographs and Alfred Stieglitz’s own works, as well as the ones he published in his journal Camera Work, abstract photography first gained recognition in the United States.19 Though photography was not a major branch of study in the Chicago institute, it was one of five that provided the subject of a “science-related” seminar, Light, photography, film and advertising.20

György Kepes, Self-portrait (Berlin), 1930, © Kepes Institute, Eger.

György Kepes, Geometric forms, Chicago, 1940, © Kepes Institute, Eger.

Teaching had already begun by the time Kepes arrived in America.21 The practical classes which Kepes joined with a few weeks’ lag were organized by a local photographer, Henry Holmes Smith. The studies in the nature of light were impromptu ideas towards creating an instruction method.22 Even before it was published, Kepes used Vision in Motion, this summary of László Moholy-Nagy’s theory of art, as a reference book while he was developing his teaching method. (It was to become a course book for the school only posthumously.) The simple light modulator, which could be fashioned from a sheet of paper and whose idea he borrowed from Moholy-Nagy, became, with other devices of shaping light without a camera, a favored instrument at Kepes’s courses.23

In a school where students were free to pass between the faculties, Kepes, who was looking for forms for his ideas, found inspiration in the time spent with his students and the solutions they provided for the assignments. He worked extensively with Nathan Lerner, one his most talented students. Lerner, who later became an instructor at the school, studied the graphic quality of light with a reconstruction of the light box, a device invented in the Renaissance. In his experiments, he could change the tone value of the shadows of objects hung on strings inside the box, through holes on the side of the box, with accurately calculable effects.24

Kepes and Smith dispensed with the formalist methods used in traditional art training in order to “educate the eye,”25 and encouraged students to study the intellectual and social dimensions of photography.26 These studies concerned, above all, the organic, modeling and chromatic qualities of light. Students usually used so-called sunlight paper, which was more resistant to strong light sources and long exposure, and reproduced the characteristics of matter with the broadest possible scale of shades. This raw material enabled the recording of moving light sources, like electric torches, and Kepes called the results “light drawings”. There were also experiments with color-sensitive photographic paper. They arranged pieces of cellophane between two glass sheets, which acted as color filters that corresponded to the emulsion of the negative. They greatly valued the possibilities of photochemical techniques: solarization, for instance, which emphasizes motifs with a negative halo, was preferred for its surprising and spectacular effect. Kepes was particularly interested in the combination of two techniques already in use in the 19th century, cliché verre and decalcomania, to allow materials of differing viscosity to mix. The lava-like formations of blurring ink and colored pigments between the glass sheets before the photographic paper induced physical processes that could be looked upon as “metaphysical events.”27 “These images are photogenic images,” he argued, “they are produced by light, and if I am lucky, generate light.”28

The photograms, which thanks to their autopoiesis represent “the absolute peculiarity of the photographic process,”29 are unique and irreproducible works; they cannot be imitated and their peculiar stylistic marks cannot be abstracted and learned. The method best suited for the desired effect can only be found with a trial-and-error method. A more human version, as it were, of this approach can be detected in the set portrait photos and photo montages Kepes made at the time. One of the most characteristic of the series made in Chicago consist of portraits of his wife, Juliet Appleby, then a student of the school, who holds a peacock feather in front of her face. The indirect sensuality of the pictures is due not only to the collage-like orchestration of the chosen detail: painted additions to the print also enhance the surprising effect.30

György Kepes, “Eyes of Chicago”, Chicago, 1941, © Kepes Institute, Eger.

Kepes went on to teach without Smith in the successor of the New Bauhaus, the School of Design, which opened in 1939. At the regular and evening classes, the Light and Advertising Workshop, where “a thorough re-evaluation is made of the elements of visual expression,”31 he was helped by several assistants: Frank Levstik, and two students, Leonard Niederkorn and Nathan Lerner.32 Beside the vividly imaginative photograms, which he devised from the most diverse materials, Kepes conducted important light experiments, which employed the distorting and reflexive effects of prisms, concave and convex lenses and glass pieces, and easy-to-mould polished metal surfaces. With a signature move, he forced the lyrically abstract, amorphous shapes into a balanced order by combining them with geometric forms. “The phenomenon of light is capable of an apparent spontaneity which is difficult, if not impossible, for the manual artist to achieve,” he wrote on the back of a piece made at the time.33 It followed from the nature of light that the form was not the only thing to appear in Kepes’s compositions: there was also a secondary image that emerged from the motion generated by the form – a virtual trace of space-time, which also referred, through our senses, the unknown processes in the world around. This reflected, purely intellectual quality that makes perception fluid when we look at the picture is a clear sign of how deeply Kepes’s aesthetic was influenced by a key figure of Gestalt psychology, a lifelong friend, Rudolf Arnheim.34

Kepes’s study in a 1942 issue of Popular Photography provided a summary of his experiments with light. In discussing the effect-making mechanisms of modern design, he called attention to modeling with “plastic light,” in which, he claimed, the point is not to grasp the object to be represented but to record the light reflected by the object.35 “The goal of this play with light,” he writes, “is to find out the varying light-modeling capacities of the objects which surround us.”36 The first illustration in the study demonstrates the interaction of metal fragments sprinkled inside a horseshoe magnet, which recalled the artist’s photogram Magnetic Fields (1938). The latter not only showed “the hidden face of nature,” but was such an eye-catcher that it made it to the front page of a magazine (PM, 1939).37 The same year, Moholy, Kepes and Lerner presented a workshop-exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art under the title “How to make a photogram,” which was probably the most appropriate presentation of the method used in the school. Between 1941 and 1943, the show travelled through the cities of the East Coast, and brought popular recognition for the School of Design.38

The experience Kepes garnered whilst teaching the theory of design, a part of the Chicago curriculum, was solidified into a unified theory by those two fields that are crucial for the photogram’s mode of expression, light modeling and interpretive vision. He crystallized his views in his 1944 book Language of Vision, which is to this day an essential source for visual education.39 The artist’s first book – in which one of the forewords was written by Siegfried Giedion, who had looked at the mechanization of the human environment through the lens of Kepes’s findings – outlined a history of the physiology of vision, emphasizing the importance of new means of visual expression and technological media. The tool of a new order of image making, he concluded, is the “dynamic iconography,” an optical message that is arranged plastically and has a symbolic and deeply social commitment, being “one of the strongest potential means both to reunite man and his knowledge and to re-form man into an integrated being.”40

The Expansion of Light: From the Studio to the Environment

György Kepes’s interest in the theoretical and practical application of light dates back to his Berlin years of the early 1930s, diligently conducting studies in the field of photogram, photography and film, but by that time he wouldn’t imagine to enlarge the scope of the medium to an environmental scale, not even in his wildest dreams.

It was in the end of 1941, just after the attack of Pearl Harbor that made United States to enter WWII, when the School of Design in Chicago announced a program in civilian defense.41 Developed by Kepes in the following year, his Camouflage Course was a remarkable intersection of art and science, offering a diverse account in the psychology of light and color perception that was combined with a “research ... in nature and animal camouflage; surface covering; mimicry; visual illusions; … basic photography course; investigation of camouflage techniques.”42 The most notable plans sought to deceive enemy pilots with floating light sources in city parks, artificial islands on Lake Michigan off Chicago, and lights on buoys in the lake that would have imitated the night-time aerial view of the city.43 Kepes’s preoccupation with camouflage technology was a prerequisite of his experience of seeing night-time Chicago, by hovering above the city in a helicopter, as part the preparation of the school’s military assignment.44 Several of those works he later devised for public space he came to realize refer to the cosmic sight of flying over the city at night.

György Kepes, Programmed light mural (New York, KLM Dutch Airlines ticket office), 1959, detail. © Kepes Institute, Eger.

One of the most spectacular of these was a kinetic mural that reinterpreted the instruments of his easel paintings as a “luminous curtain.” Made in 1959, the work was put in view in the heart of New York, in Saks Fifth Avenue.45 “The way I see it, this square is almost a symbolic scene for life today, a place where modern technology, light technology is used in the most professional, most crafty manner. And behind the glare of technology, there is something completely different: the most colorless human life”46, he recalled in an interview. The piece, which was installed in the ticket office of the Dutch airline KLM, was undoubtedly a tour-de-force. By measuring 15 meters by over 5 meters, the programmed light wall jammed in the small space behind the counters consisted of about 60,000 fluorescent light sources with built-in timers, hidden behind randomly chosen masks. The light of the bulbs was modulated by colored metal plates, whose placement followed the rule of Peruvian fabrics: “the maintenance of rhythmic interplay between a constant pattern and a changing pattern.”47 The constantly changing and vibrating lights of the interior were responsible for an interplay that treated colors like musical notes, and which sought to harmonize the architectural idea of the interior with the urban environment of the exterior through the agency of the very light effects produced. The work should be regarded as a significant contribution for art history as it was among the first large-scale experiments to apply in an extended form the supremacy of the space-time continuum promulgated by Naum Gabo in the 1920s.48 Thanks to its location, it was well known enough to have a direct influence on international kinetic art.49 It had to do with the artist’s own expectations that he was not fully satisfied with the way this “light architecture” was realized: the virtuoso orchestration of light could not be accomplished in the way he envisioned it. According to the concept, all other lights should have been turned off when the work was in operation, and he was also frustrated by the giant windows of the fashion store across the avenue, which reflected the play of light, and divested it of its persuasive force.50 On the top of that, the gigantic work was producing such a great amount of heat that, on the request of the employees, it had to switch off during every summer.

The KLM mural was indisputably a state-of-the-art piece in mid-century kinetic art and served as a turning point in György Kepes’s artistic trajectory. When examining the many paths that led from it to the future, one would be justified in wondering whether Kepes’s idea of realizing an acoustic-visual environment on Times Square would be an enhanced version of his aims, where “a rich urban landscape could again be achieved”51 with the programmed play of chromatic lights. If Fernand Léger wanted to use spotlights to paint the national tricolor on the Notre Dame for the 1937 Paris World Exposition,52 György Kepes was already considering making the new center of art, New York, the scene of “the public miracle.”

Though the artist successfully used refracting surfaces in several mosaic decorations for facades and interiors (churches, schools, libraries, hotel lobbies, etc.) in the late 1950s and during the 1960s, his interest turned to the optical interplay of materials not used previously in architecture. The vibrant effect produced by negative and positive surfaces (frameworks and grids) came to be a crucial element of another New York commission, a few streets away from the KLM ticket office. Kepes was invited to design aluminum screens to fit between the second storey pillars of the 45th Street lobby of the vast PanAm Building, which was finished in 1963 after the plans of Walter Gropius, and physically cuts across the city on Park Avenue.53 The plans were brought to life with the help of the same Hungarian-born engineer, Paul Weidlinger, whose studio had contributed to the technical realization of the KLM light wall.54 The artist covered the tracery of the screens behind the balustrade of the lobby, constructed from intersecting squares, with a mesh of painted stripes that give the impression of a dripping fluid. The flourish of organic texture that bursts the composition is checked only by the straight lines of the braces that divide in the center of the structure and restore the visual balance. As it filters through the monochrome composition, light makes the work vibrate mysteriously in a manner that recalls those transparent structures that László Moholy-Nagy made in London, from such plastics as Zellon and Rhodoid.55 By expanding the reality represented, the work in the lobby of the PanAm Building also referred to a problem of modern painting, the conceptualism of extending the painting over the frame. Characteristically, when the Art Institute of Chicago invited Kepes in 1942 to curate the exhibition Close-up of Tintoretto56, he had Georges Seurat’s famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte reframed, and “continued” the composition in the gallery space, by translating its elements to a three-dimensional installation.57

György Kepes at the opening of CAVS at MIT, 1967. Photo: Ivan Massar, © Kepes Institute, Eger.

György Kepes, Kinetic outdoor light mural for the Radio Shack in Boston (Washington Street, Between Court Street and Cornhill Street), 1950. Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Washington Street, Between Court Street and Cornhill Street, Radio Shack by György Kepes, Kevin Lynch und Nishan Bichajian (Photographer). Online [09-12-2019] / CC BY-NC 3.0

In 1950, Kepes received a commission to create a light mural for the storefront of a Boston shop that Carl Koch designed for Radio Shack, the electronics retailer. The neon logo on the fishbone-patterned enamel facade, which was an integral part of the architecture and was programmed to present combinations of fifteen different colors, was an enlarged equivalent of the artist’s photograms that he eloquently termed as “light drawings”.58 The three connecting lighted shapes above the portal symbolized the transformation of radio frequency into sound waves. This abstract light facade was of epochal significance. Not only did it become a point of reference in course books on image design,59 but it can be regarded as on of the first practical application of Moholy-Nagy’s theory of light architecture.60 Its optical modeling, using the synthesis of elementary light sources, in turn foreshadowed the study Kepes presented in Technology Review in 1967.61 Examining the history of artworks created with artificial light and considering the new possibilities of the medium, he would proclaim that “of all the media presently available to artists, light seems to present the richest concrete and symbolic possibilities for the expression of the interdependence principle of the modern scientific urban-industrial world.”62 This latter study was a summary of the findings of research he had carried out with the help of a generous Guggenheim fellowship, which he had won eight years earlier. This writing on light (the so-called Light Book) belonged to Kepes’s long-time dream of a substantial volume on the subject.63 Light as a Creative Medium, an exhibition he curated at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, in 1965, was another stage in Kepes’s collection of material towards this opus magnum, which was to remain a manuscript at the time of his death. It adds to the interest of the venue for this exhibition, which dealt with the history of modeling with light, that he was invited to head the institution when it was established. The model of the back facade of the building, which the designer, Le Corbusier articulated with narrow window niches, was used for a sculptural light work he constructed with his students, and which was to function as decoration for the exhibition.64

Throughout his long career, György Kepes had many opportunities to contribute to one of the most ancient forms of communal art, the decoration of sacral spaces. Though several works are known which he originally intended for church interiors,65 the best-known works of this type are the designs he made for murals and colored glass windows, which became popular again in the 1950s.66 He made conscious use of the interaction of colors in the mosaic inserts for the shrine in a Dallas synagogue, the Temple Emanu-El, which was built from red Mexican bricks and layed turquoise and gold tesserae in their joints. Made in 1958 and representing the menorah, the interior owes much to the artist’s studies in color theory, which concerned not only the history of the medium (e.g. the harmonic general effect of mosaics in Ravenna, or the chapel of Ronchamp), but the physical laws as well of the spectral frequencies that can be produced with the various pigments.67 Kepes contributed to the light design of more than a half a dozen temples across the United States. A notable exemplar is the St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, built between 1965 and 1970 by Pietro Belluschi, dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning at the time. Situated on an elevation in the center of city and visible from afar, the building bears a hyperbolic paraboloid-based concrete dome, which was put in place after the static calculations of Pier Luigi Nervi. Passionless and technical, the volume of the church forms an inseparable whole with the structure. Two artists contributed to the restrained but grand decoration of the interior. Richard Lippold, who also worked in the PanAm Building, suspended, with his signature golden wires, shimmering aluminum rods above the altar. The optical play of this floating canopy directs the attention towards the imposing ceiling and its coffers. Where the four parts of the reinforced concrete shell meet and form a cross, György Kepes’s stained glass windows fill the openings.68 At lower levels, red and blue dominate the surfaces, while white and yellow take over at greater heights; the light coming in transubstantiates and immaterializes the cold and somber interior as if trying to illustrate the medieval treatise of the Abbot Suger69 or Ludwig Tieck’s romantic poems70 on the heavenly, majestic radiance of gemstones. As if a machine-woven tapestry, executed after the artist’s color sketch, were hung in the space, whose fascinating optical vibration were informed by a scientific finding which has eschatological relevance, namely that the union of two colors may reproduce, in an ideal case, what produced them, transcendental white light. And as we know, light played in Kepes’s case not just a creative tool for his artistic experiments, but something that was associated with a deeper meaning―an indispensable accessory for the enlightenment.

György Kepes, Light tower of Baltimore, 1964 (collaborator: Michio Ihara). © Kepes Institute, Eger.

The first part of this article was originally published in: The Pleasure of Light. György Kepes and Frank Malina at the Intersection of Science and Art, Ludwig Muzeum, Budapest 2010, pp. 34–52, please see Research Archive.

●Footnotes
  • 1 György Kepes: “Kinetic Light as a Creative Medium”, Technology Review, December 1967 (70:2), p. 31.
  • 2 Wassily Kandinsky: “Und,” in: Max Bill (ed.): Essays über Kunst und Künstler, Benteli, Bern 1973 (1955), pp. 97–108. (Originally published in i10, No. I/I, Amsterdam, 1927.)
  • 3 László Moholy-Nagy: Vision in Motion, Paul Theobald, Chicago 1946, p. 361.
  • 4 Ferenc Csaplár: “A Munka-kör képzőművészeti tevékenysége” (Activity in visual arts of the Work Circle), Művészettörténeti értesítő, 1972, no. 2, p. 133; Kepes György kiállítása (György Kepes’s exhibition), catalogue of the exhibition at Műcsarnok, Budapest, 7–30 May 1976, Műcsarnok, Budapest 1976, p. 15.
  • 5 Lajos Kassák: “A KUT fiataljai” (The young artists of KUT), Munka, 12 February 1930, p. 382.
  • 6 Lóránd Hegyi: “A Munka-kör képzőművészeti tevékenysége” (Activity in visual arts of the Work Circle), Ars Hungarica, 1983:2, no. 6, p. 295.
  • 7 Ferenc Bodri: “Kepes György fotogramjairól” (György Kepes’s photograms), Fotóművészet, 1973:1, p. 21.
  • 8 Christoph Wagner: “Esoterik am Bauhaus? Eine Einführung,” in: Christoph Wagner (ed.): Das Bauhaus und die Esoterik (Catalogue of the exhibition at Gustav-Lübcke-Museum, Hamm), Kerber, Bielefeld – Leipzig 2005, pp. 16–19.
  • 9 Gábor Andrási: Veszelszky Béla, Új Művészet Alapítvány, Budapest 1994, p. 8.
  • 10 László Lengyel: “A tudós agya, a festő szeme és a költő szíve. Kepes György, a tudós-pedagógus” (The mind of the scientist, the eyes of the painter, the heart of the poet. György Kepes, the scientist and educator), Új művészet, Summer 1997 (VIII:7-8-9), p. 4.
  • 11 Richard Whelan: Robert Capa: A Biography, Knopf, New York 1985, p. 30; András Bán’s life interview with György Kepes, 1983−1985, MS, property of Ferenc Offenbächer, 29–30; Willem Diepraam: Eva Besnyö. Monografieen van Nederlandse fotografen, Focus Uitgeverij, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Amsterdam 1999, p. 66.
  • 12 (f.j.): “Uj progressziv művészek kiállítása” (Exhibition of new progressive artists), Pesti Hírlap, 7 April 1930, p. 7; István Genthon’s review of the KUT exhibition: Napkelet 1930 (Vol. XV), p. 208.
  • 13 Ottó Mezei: A Bauhaus magyar vonatkozásai: előzmények, együttműködés, kisugárzás (The Hungarian relevance of Bauhaus: precedents, cooperation, influence), Népművelési Intézet – Művelődéskutató Intézet, Budapest 1981, p. 78.
  • 14 Andreas Haus: “Die Präsenz des Materials – Ungarische Fotografen aus dem Bauhaus-Kreis,” in: Hubertus Gaßner (ed.): Wechselwirkungen. Ungarische Avantgarde in der Weimarer Republik (Catalogue of the exhibition of Neue Galerie Kassel – Museum Bochum, 1987), Jonas, Marburg 1986, p. 77.
  • 15 Anne H. Hoy (ed.): György Kepes. Lightgraphics (Exhibition catalogue), International Center of Photography, New York 1984, p. 5.
  • 16 Vilma Komor: “Fény és árnyék a nagyvárosokban. Beszélgetés az ismét itthon járt Kepes Györggyel” (Light and shadow in the great cities. An interview with György Kepes who visited Hungary again), Magyar Nemzet, 29 August 1982, p. 5.
  • 17 Beside making applied graphics and typographies, Kepes was responsible for much of the stage set of the 1931 production of Madame Butterfly in the Berlin Staatsoper, and of the 1930 production of Paul Hindemith’s Hin und zurück in Erwin Piscator’s theater on Nollendorfplatz. He also contributed to a film, Light Play: Black-White-Grey (1930−1932), which illustrated the operation of Moholy-Nagy’s kinetic sculpture Light Prop for an Electric Stage. The Emperor’s New Clothes was a plan for an animated film, which used Andersen’s tale to illustrate Kepes’s political views, and he was considering a film version of the story of the outlaw Sándor Rózsa. He also made successful experiments with the color film technology called Gasparcolor. Among other jobs in London, he worked, like Moholy and Harry Blacker, as arts consultant for the fashion store Simpson’s on Piccadilly, and had several important assignments in graphic design.
  • 18 Anne H. Hoy (ed.): György Kepes. Lightgraphics, p. 9.
  • 19 Thomas Kellein: “Die Erfindung abstrakter Fotografie 1916 in New York,” in: Thomas Kellein, Angela Lampe (eds.): Abstrakte Fotografie, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit 2000, pp. 33−44.
  • 20 Lloyd Engelbrecht: “Educating the Eye. Photography and the Founding Generation at the Institute of Design, 1937–46,” in: David Travis, Elizabeth Siegel (eds.): Taken by Design. Photographs from the Institute of Design, 1937–1971, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2002, p. 17.
  • 21 When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he was considering giving up teaching and joining the rebels instead.
  • 22 Robert F. Brown’s interview with György Kepes, 7 March and 30 August 1972, and 11 January 1973. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., typescript, p. 15.
  • 23 László Moholy-Nagy: Vision in Motion, pp. 202−203.
  • 24 László Moholy-Nagy: Vision in Motion, p. 200.
  • 25 György Kepes: “Education of the Eye,” More Business: The Voice of Letterpress Printing and Photo-Engraving, Chicago, November 1938 (3:11), p. 9.
  • 26 Sibyl Moholy-Nagy: Experiment in Totality, The MIT Press, Cambridge 1969, pp. 170−171.
  • 27 Jeannine Fiedler: “Wechselwirkungen. Amerikanische Fotografie und New Bauhaus,” in: Peter Hahn, Lloyd Engelbrecht (eds.): 50 Jahre New Bauhaus. Bauhausnachfolge in Chicago (Catalogue of the exhibition of the Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin), Argon, Berlin 1987, pp. 75−76.
  • 28 Jean S. Tucker: Light Abstractions: a Photographic Exhibition Organized at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1980.
  • 29 László Moholy-Nagy: “A fotográfia: napjaink objektív látási formája” (Photography: an objective way of seeing for our time), Korunk, 8 October 1933 (8:10), p. 911.
  • 30 Lloyd Engelbrecht: “Educating the Eye,” p. 26. One of the most poetic pieces in the Juliet series employs the solarisation method. Cf. Frank Holland: “Art Institute shows Camera-less Photos,” The Chicago Tribune, 4 July 1943, p. 28.
  • 31 László Moholy-Nagy: Vision in Motion, p. 86.
  • 32 Engelbrecht: “Educating the Eye,” p. 29.
  • 33 Adam J. Boxer (ed.): The New Bauhaus. School of Design in Chicago. Photographs 1937–1944, Banning+Associates, New York 1993, p. 24. The sentence quoted can be found on the back of Landscape/Monument (1939), a work of mixed technique.
  • 34 Kent Kleinman, Leslie Van Duzer, Rudolf Arnheim: Revealing Vision, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1997, p. 16; Michael Diers: Fotografie. Film. Video. Beiträge zu einer kritischen Theorie des Bildes, Fundus-Bücher, 162, Philo, Hamburg 2006, pp. 112−113; Rudolf Arnheim’s letters to Kepes, property of Juliet K. Stone and András Kepes.
  • 35 György Kepes: “Modern Design! With Light and Camera,” Popular Photography, February 1942, (10:2), pp. 24−26, 100−101.
  • 36 Ibid., p. 25.
  • 37 Incorrectly attributed to Moholy-Nagy, it is republished in: Richard Kostelanetz: Moholy-Nagy. An Anthology, Praeger, New York 1970, p. 83, fig. 32.
  • 38 Renate Heyne: “Light Displays. Relations So Far Unknown,” in: Renate Heyne, Floris M. Neusüss (eds.): Moholy-Nagy. The Photograms (Catalogue raisonné), Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2009, pp. 32−33.
  • 39 György Kepes: Language of Vision, Paul Theobald, Chicago 1944. The artist finished the book at the North Texas State College in Denton, where he was invited in 1943. Its success led to an invitation from the Brooklyn College, New York, where he gave courses in graphic design.
  • 40 Ibid., p. 13.
  • 41 Gyorgy Kepes papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., Reel 5303, Frame 21., see also: Jeannine Fiedler, Hattula Moholy-Nagy (eds.): László Moholy-Nagy. Colour in Transparency. Photographic Experiments in Colour, 1934-1946. (Catalogue of the exhibition of the Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin.) Steidl, Göttingen 2006, p. 122.
  • 42 School of Design program brochure, ca. 1942–43, n.d., no page nos. Chicago, Institute of Design Collection, University of Illinois, Box 3, Folder 76.
  • 43 Meyer Zolotareff: “Study ‘Science of Illusion,’ How Chicago May Hide From Bombers!” Chicago Herald American, Second Section, Monday, 12 January 1942; John L. Scott “in collaboration with L. Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes”: “A Bird’s-Eye View of Camouflage.” Civilian Defense, July-August 1942 (I:3), pp. 10–14, p. 37, quoted in: Lloyd Engelbrecht: Moholy-Nagy, Mentor for Modernism, Flying Trapeze Press, Cincinnati 2009, p. 612, n. 403–404.
  • 44 Judith Wechsler: “Gyorgy Kepes,” in: Gyorgy Kepes, The MIT Years, 1945–1977. (Catalogue of the exhibition at Hayden Gallery, Cambridge). MIT Press, Cambridge 1978, p. 10.
  • 45 Gyorgy Kepes: “Mobile Light Mural,” in: Gyorgy Kepes (ed.): The Nature and Art of Motion (Vision+Value Series). George Braziller, New York 1965, pp. 18–22.
  • 46 György Kepes: “Az ember második környezetéről”(On man’s second environment), Nagyvilág, 1980:9, p. 1397.
  • 47 Gyorgy Kepes: “The Visual Arts and the Sciences: a Proposal for Collaboration,” Architectural Record, May 1965, p. 153; Gyorgy Kepes: “Introduction,” in: Gyorgy Kepes (ed.): The Nature and Art of Motion (Vision+Value Series). George Braziller, New York 1965, p. 22.
  • 48 Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner: Realistic Manifesto (1920). Cf. Mary Ann Caws: Manifesto: a century of isms. University of Nebraska Press, 2001, pp. 396–404.
  • 49 Jack Burnham: Beyond Modern Sculpture. The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of this Century. George Braziller, New York 1968, p. 247.
  • 50 Gyorgy Kepes: Art, Technology and Environment. Pidgeon Audiovisual, sound recording of a lecture with a slideshow, London, 1984. MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Rotch Visual Collections, Inv. No.: N72.T4.K46 1984.
  • 51 Gyorgy Kepes: “Light-Art on a New Scale,” The Structurist, 1973–1974, No. 13–14, p. 81.
  • 52 Jürgen Claus: Expansion der Kunst. Beiträge zu Theorie und Praxis öffentlicher Kunst. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1970, p. 67.
  • 53 Meredith L. Clausen: The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream. The MIT Press, Cambridge, London 2005, p. 143, p. 152. Since 1992, the building has been called MetLife Building.
  • 54 Courtesy of Solveig Weidlinger, widow of Paul Weidlinger.
  • 55 Lloyd Engelbrecht: Moholy-Nagy, Mentor for Modernism. Flying Trapeze Press, Cincinnati 2009, pp. 502–4, pp. 528–29.
  • 56 Close-up of Tintoretto. Art Institute of Chicago, 29 June – 29 October 1943.
  • 57 Robert F. Brown’s interview with György Kepes, 7 March and 30 August 1972, 11 January 1973. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., typescript, p. 25.
  • 58 Eleanor Bittermann: Art in Modern Architecture, Reinhold, New York 1952, p. 69; Jack Burnham: Beyond Modern Sculpture. The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of this Century, George Braziller, New York 1968, p. 292. The transition between the two media are represented by those sketches from a year earlier that show a neon sculpture of vast entwining spirals. Cf. Gyorgy Kepes, The MIT Years, 1945–1977. (Catalogue of the exhibition at Hayden Gallery, Cambridge). MIT Press, Cambridge 1978, p. 60.
  • 59 “2. Stockroom Store,” Architectural Forum. August 1952, p. 104.
  • 60 László Moholy-Nagy: “From Pigment to Light,” in: František Kalivoda (ed.): Telehor. Brno, 1936, pp. 32–34.
  • 61 Gyorgy Kepes: “Kinetic Light as a Creative Medium,” Technology Review, December 1967 (70:2), pp. 25–35.
  • 62 Ibid., p 32.
  • 63 Light in Art and Architecture. (“The Light-Book.”) Otto Piene’s letter to the author, 17 April 2010.
  • 64 Kepes György: Light Sculpture, 1963. Recorded in Martin Sokoloff’s film (16 mm, b/w, 2 min., MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Rotch Library, Inv. No.: N6537:K38.S683). My gratitude is due to Lowry Burgess, who furnished me with further valuable data on the history of the model.
  • 65 E.g. Eternal Flame; Burning Bush. Prepared with Thomas McNulty and Harold Pride in the early 1950s, these metal sculptures were installed in diverse synagogues. Courtesy of Mary Otis Stevens.
  • 66 Eleanor Bittermann: Art in Modern Architecture, Reinhold, New York 1952, pp. 152–53, p. 155.
  • 67 As regards the physical and psychological relationship between light and color, Kepes frequently referred to the books English physicist William Henry Bragg had written about the nature of light. (Cf. also: Design Quarterly, n.p.) For a detailed description of the decoration, see Art in Our Temple. A selection by Ellen Harris, 1993. MIT Museum, Cambridge, Archives, News releases, Correspondences folder.
  • 68 E.K.T.: “Saint Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco,” Architectural Record, Vol. 43, September 1971, pp. 113–17.
  • 69 Erwin Panofsky (ed. & trans.): Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St.-Denis and its Art Treasures, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1979.
  • 70 Ludwig Tieck: Poetisches Journal, Erster Jahrgang, Zweiter Stück, III., 10., An Sophia, Erinnerung und Ermunterung, Friedrich Frommann, Jena 1800, p. 482.
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