Throughout his career, Frederick Kiesler worked across mediums. He believed that “sculpture, painting, architecture should not be used as wedges to split our experience of art and life; they are here to link, to correlate, to bind dream and reality.” After studying painting and printmaking in Vienna in the early 1900s, he became known in Europe for his inventive stage designs, featuring mirrors and projections. In the course of working on these projects, he met and at times collaborated with artists such as El Lissitzky and László Moholy-Nagy. In 1923, Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg invited him to join de Stijl, making him the group’s youngest member.
In 1926, after traveling to New York to co-organize the International Theatre Exposition at Steinway Hall, Kiesler and his wife immigrated to the United States and settled in the city. There, Kiesler helped spread the ideas of the European avant-garde, such as non-objective painting, abstraction, and the merging of art and life. He found work as a professor at Columbia University’s School of Architecture and as the director of scenic design at the Juilliard School of Music. In 1942, he was chosen to design collector and art dealer Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in New York, for which he planned every aspect, from an innovative method of installing paintings to its lighting, sculpture stands, and seating. In 1947, he designed the installation Salle Superstition for the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, organized by Marcel Duchamp and André Breton at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. In this exhibition, Kiesler also displayed his first work of sculpture, Totem for All Religions, a wood-and-rope construction that stands more than nine feet tall and simultaneously evokes a totem pole, a crucifix, and various astronomical symbols.
Kiesler’s longest-running project was Endless House, a single-family dwelling whose biomorphic form and lack of corners strongly contrasted with the hard geometric edges that defined most modern architecture of the time. He sought to design a structure responsive to the occupants’ functional and spiritual requirements. He developed his ideas for the house over several decades, creating numerous sketches and models. Although plans were made to build a to-scale model in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden in 1958, they did not materialize, and the project remains unrealized. Nonetheless, Kiesler’s Endless House concept was highly influential and stands as a strong expression of his bold statement: “Form does not follow function. Function follows vision. Vision follows reality.”
Introduction by Lily Goldberg, Collection Specialist, Department of Painting and Sculpture, 2016