György Kepes Photographs: The MIT Years, 1946-1985 MIT Museum, Kurtz Gallery for Photography

February 13, 2018

György Kepes Photographs: The MIT Years, 1946-1985
MIT Museum, Kurtz Gallery for Photography
March 21 - July 15, 2018

MIT Museum Presents Exhibition of Gyorgy Kepes Photographs From His MIT Years
Second part of a year-long exhibition devoted to Kepes

Cambridge, MA, February 13, 2018 -- The MIT Museum is pleased to announce a major exhibition on the photography of György Kepes (1906-2001), focusing on the work he created while on the MIT faculty, and the inspiration he found there. The exhibition, György Kepes Photographs: The MIT Years, 1946-1985, on view March 21 - July 15, 2018, highlights the artist and educator’s pedagogy, and the work he produced at MIT and into his later years, including his influential books and exhibitions. This is the second part of a year-long Kepes exhibition, the first focused on his years in Budapest, Berlin and Chicago prior to his coming to MIT.

The exhibition explores how MIT had a profound influence on Kepes and his art practice and theory, as he did on MIT. Kepes and the culture of MIT—in which he became a key participant—were highly symbiotic and cross-fertilizing. While Kepes has always been acknowledged as a major innovator particularly in his role as the founding director of the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1967, less attention has been given to the impact that the culture at MIT and the scientific and technological research being developed across the Institute had on the formulation of Kepes’s ideas and work.

The exhibition examines the formal and theoretical relationship of Kepes’s photography and the scientific imagery that he was exhibiting and publishing, and particularly in his influential work on The New Landscape in Art and Science for MIT’s Hayden Gallery (1951) and its subsequent publication (1956). The Kurtz Gallery for Photography at the MIT Museum will be designed as two interrelated displays—a section dedicated to the scientific imagery Kepes selected for The New Landscape—and Kepes’s own photographic work of late 1940s through the mid-1980s.

Kepes was at the forefront of photographic innovations that radically changed perceptions of photographic realism and the documentary function of photography. The exhibition displays examples of his photographic work in which he experimented to great effect with camera-less images, various negative and print manipulation techniques, and methods of constructing photographic subjects with montage, collage, and plastic elements or found objects.

The occasion for this MIT Museum Kurtz Gallery exhibition is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. The first part of the exhibition, György Kepes: Berlin to Chicago, 1930-1946 (September 2017 – January 2018), examined the development of Kepes as a photographer from his early artistic training in Budapest and early photographic work in Berlin, to his immigration to Chicago and his work for the New Bauhaus (later, School of Design, the forerunner of today’s Illinois Institute of Technology), where he taught photography and design. Both parts of the exhibition are curated by Gary Van Zante, the MIT Museum curator responsible for design, architecture and photography.

The Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT was founded  in 1967 by György Kepes in the School of Architecture and Planning, and he served as director from 1967 until his retirement in 1974. Kepes was an artistic innovator, theorist, and educator whose work and ideas profoundly influenced art and design practice in the second half of the twentieth century. His work encompassed photography, painting, graphic and exhibition design, light installations, and a broad range of theoretical writing on art and design. Kepes is the first and only visual artist of MIT’s faculty to have been awarded the highest academic honor at MIT, Institute Professor, (there are now two Institute Professors of Music). He later became Institute Professor Emeritus.

György Kepes was born in Hungary and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. In his art training he was attracted to the abstract visual language of the European avant-garde and expressed a keen interest in the technology and science as the basis of a “new way of seeing.” At the invitation of fellow Hungarian, former Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy, he moved to Berlin in 1930 and then followed Moholy-Nagy’s call to teach at the New Bauhaus (later named the School of Design) in Chicago.

Kepes’ first book, the Language of Vision (1944) was based on the new pedagogy he had developed in Chicago. It’s critical success led to his appointment at MIT in 1946. Kepes edited and published the influential seven-volume Vision + Value series (1965-66, 1972) and founded MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), a widely-influential laboratory for interdisciplinary art practice and artistic research that was the first of its kind.

Throughout his life, Kepes continued to paint and create work in various other media including some well-known light installations, while at the same time producing photograms. A common avant-garde technique, the photogram, is a photographic image exposed by placing objects directly onto the surface of the photosensitive material, without the use of a camera. Kepes found the photogram technique an ideal teaching method, as the method was as old as photography itself and as a study primarily of the effects of light, exemplified the essentials of the medium. 

Though the fine arts at MIT have a long history, contemporary art made its effective entry in the form of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), which was established in 1967. Its founder, the artist and MIT professor György Kepes, conceived of CAVS as a fellowship program for artists. Its initial mission was twofold: to facilitate “cooperative projects aimed at the creation of monumental scale environmental forms” and to support participating fellows in the development of “individual creative pursuits.” A range of important innovators in the visual arts, environmental arts, dance, and new media were CAVS fellows: composer Maryanne Amacher, avant-garde filmmaker Stan van der Beek, artist and educator Lowry Burgess, video artist Peter Campus, performance artist Charlotte Moorman, artist Nam June Paik and many others.

Otto Piene, a member of the ZERO group, succeeded Prof. Kepes as director in 1974. Following Piene’s retirement in 1994, the internationally-known artist and VAP faculty member, artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, became director of CAVS. Steve Benton, inventor of the white-light “rainbow” hologram, directed CAVS from 1996 until his death in 2003; and in 2004, Wodiczko returned as director. The Visual Arts Program and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies merged, and in December of 2009, the combined group was renamed the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT). A celebration of the new program was held on April 15, 2010 with exhibitions, conversations, and performances. The Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a series of events in 2017-18.

The MIT Museum's mission is to engage the wider community with MIT's science, technology and other areas of scholarship in ways that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. The Museum features two floors filled with ongoing and changing exhibitions, currently with an emphasis on robotics, photography and holography, MIT history, and current MIT research. The Museum presents a wide range of programs that appeal to audiences ranging from middle school students to adults, including the annual Cambridge Science Festival in late April.

70 percent of incoming freshmen have prior training in the arts, and nearly 50 percent of all MIT undergraduates enroll in arts courses each year. The arts strengthen MIT’s commitment to the aesthetic, human and social dimensions of research and innovation. Artistic knowledge and creation exemplify MIT’s motto—mens et manus, mind and hand. The arts are essential to MIT’s mission to build a better society and meet the challenges of the 21st century. For more information, visit

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