Frederick John Kiesler (1890–1965), an Austrian-American architect, theoretician, theatre designer, artist, and sculptor, was born in the Austria-Hungary Empire (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine), in 1890. He said that ‘Art is for the Living, Not Fashion.’ Kiesler believed that all parts must be correlated in design; “physical and biological factors must be considered. We absorb the services of objects, as we absorb the resources and friendships of human beings. The sense of continuity is born within us.”
Between 1910 and 1912 he studied at the Akademie der bildenden Künste. Between 1912 and 1914 he studied at the Technische Hochschule, both in Vienna.
From 1920, he collaborated briefly with Adolf Loos. In the 1920s, he designed theatre sets and interiors. In 1923, he joined the group De Stijl and, in the same year, developed the design of his ‘Endless’ house and theatre. The concept was based on an egg shape and featured a flexible interior, inexpensive heating, and a reduction in the number of joints. He was closely associated with Group G, founded by Werner Graeff, Hans Richter, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
He created the 1924 L+T (Leger und Trager) hanging system for galleries and museums. He was artistic director and architect of the 1924 ‘International Exhibition of New Theater Technique,’ Konzerthaus, Vienna. He was the architect and director of the Austrian pavilion, designing its theatre and architecture sections, at the 1925 Paris “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes.”
In 1926, he moved to the USA. Between 1926 and 1928, he was in partnership with Harvey Wiley Corbett in New York. Between 1930 and 1933, he became a member of AUDAC (American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen). Between 1934 and 1937, he was the director of scenic design at the Julliard School of Music, New York. Between 1936 and 1942, he was director of the Laboratory for Design Correlation, School of Architecture, Columbia University, New York. He directed the installation of the 1947 ‘Exposition Internationale de Surréalisme,’ Paris. From 1956—62, he was in partnership with Armand Bartos in New York. Although he built few buildings, his inventions influenced architects and artists.
From 1936, he concentrated on interior and furniture design. In 1937, he designed his space house. He designed furniture which included the biomorphic 1935–38 Two-Part Nesting Tables in cast aluminium and the 1942 Multi-Use Rocker and Multi-Use Chair for Peggy Guggenheim’s 1942 Art of This Century gallery, New York, in which Kiesler put Surrealist canvases to spatial use. Originally intended for mass production, the Two-Part Nesting Tables were put into production by New York gallery Jason McCoy in 1990 and subsequently produced in Italy.
His work was the subject of a 1975 exhibition in Vienna; and 1990 and 1992 exhibitions at Jason McCoy Gallery, New York. The1988 ‘Friedrich Kiesler—Visionär, 1890-1965’ exhibition, Museum moderner Kunst, Vienna, and traveling. Work (drawings) shown at the 1982 ‘Shape and Environment: Furniture by American Architects,’ Whitney Museum of American Art, Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Kiesler was often shunned by his peers, although he was chosen in 1952 as one of “the 15 leading artists of mid-century” by the Museum of Modern Art and, in 1957, became a fellow of the Graham Foundation in Chicago. Israeli architects disapproved of his and Bartos’s serving as the architects for the Shrine of the Book (1957–65) because they were not Israelis, even though they were Jews. Further objections to Kiesler were that he had not completed his architectural studies and had built no structures, despite having been a licensed architect in New York State since 1930. One of his colleagues at Columbia University joked: “If Kiesler wants to hold two pieces of wood together, he pretends he’s never heard of nails or screws.” He tests the tensile strengths of various metal alloys, experiments with different methods and shapes, and after six months, comes up with a very expensive device that holds two pieces of wood together almost as well as a screw”.
The Austrian Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation were established in 1997 in Vienna and biennially grants the Austrian Frederick Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts. Recipients include Hani Rashid, Lise Anne Couture, Andrés Jaque, Toyo Ito, Andrea Zittel, and Judith Barry.
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