Frederick Kiesler


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Sculptor and architect. A visionary in treating form and space, he sought continuous, organic, and fluid relationships emblematic of human consciousness. Born in the Austro-Hungarian city of Czernowitz (now Chernivtsi in western Ukraine), he received his professional training in Vienna. Before moving to the United States in 1926, he devoted his architectural practice principally to theatrical projects and exhibition designs. From 1924 he was associated with the avant-garde Dutch art and design movement De Stijl. During these years, he also began to develop ideas for what he called the “endless theater,” followed by the “endless house.” Anticipating artists' and architects' later interests in unimpeded space, he proposed innovative curved concrete shells enclosing flexible interiors. During the 1930s and 1940s his imaginative exhibition installations and environmental sculptures contributed to international surrealism. He was responsible for the dramatic and unique interior of Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, which opened in 1942. Along with his friend Marcel Duchamp, he designed the flamboyant setting of the 1947 “International Surrealist Exhibition” in Paris. Working as a sculptor from the late 1940s, he ranked among the first to pursue integration of sculptural objects with viewers' space, an approach he dubbed “endless sculpture.” As stage director and designer from 1933 until 1957 of the Juilliard Opera Theater at the Juilliard School of Music, he was responsible for more than fifty productions. He also directed an architectural design laboratory at Columbia University from 1936 to 1942. Near the end of his life, he designed (with architectural partner Armand Bartos) Jerusalem's celebrated Shrine of the Book (1959–65), which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Naturalized as an American citizen in 1936, he died in New York. His Inside the Endless House; Art, People, and Architecture: A Journal (1966) appeared posthumously, as did Selected Writings (1997). Austrian-born Stefi Kiesler (?–1963), born Stefanie (sometimes shortened to Steffi) Frischer, graduated from the University of Vienna in 1920 and married Kiesler that year in Vienna. Beginning in 1925, she produced more than one hundred inventive “typo-plastics,” compositions created on an ordinary typewriter by arranging letters and symbols into black and red abstract patterns. (Early examples appeared under the pseudonym Pietro de Saga in the magazine De Stijl.) While working at the New York Public Library for more than thirty years, she also served as a bibliographer and researcher for the Société Anonyme. She died in New York. Lillian Kiesler (1909/10–2001), his second wife, was a painter, sculptor, and actress, who had studied with Hans Hofmann and subsequently assisted at his school. Lillian Olinsey met Kiesler in 1934, but they did not marry until 1964, six months after Stefi's death.

Subjects: Art — Architecture.

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