Friedrich Kiesler, born 1890 in Czernowitz (Chernivtsi), died 1965 in New York, was an Austro-American architect, stage designer, designer, artist and theoretician. His artistic approach blurring boundaries between individual artistic genres, his concept of an endlessly flowing space and his holistic theory of design Correalism belong to the greatest visions of the 20th century and enjoy undiminished topicality. Over and above this, Kiesler was a central figure in the network of New York’s aesthetic community, and his circle of friends reads like a Who-is-Who of the Avant-garde.
Martin-Gropius-Bau is devoting an exhibition to the universal artist Friedrich Kiesler, in which his complex oeuvre is presented in all its facets for the first time in Germany. Central projects, important artistic friendships and collective works illustrate his importance in 20th century architecture and art history, and map out his environment.
Berlin is almost predestined for this: It is the city in which Kiesler celebrated his first great success with an electro-mechanic stage design for Karel Čapeks W.U.R. (R.U.R.) Werstands Universal Robots in 1923 and literally jumped feet first into the Avant-garde scene. A year later in Vienna he caused a furor with the exhibition design of the "Internationale Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik”, which he also curated, and another sensation with his Space Stage (Raumbühne) as the central exhibition piece. In 1925, Josef Hoffmann invited him to design the Austrian theatrical section for the “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in Paris. He used this commission to present his City in Space, his vision of a futuristic floating city, as an exemplary exhibition structure. In 1926 he traveled to New York, to once again organize an “International Theatre Exposition”.
Kiesler left Europe with Avant-garde projects in his luggage. Arriving with great expectations, many remain largely unfulfilled initially. His ideas seemed too Avant-garde for the new world. Kiesler quickly came to terms with the harsh reality of 1920s New York and found a successful occupation designing display windows and business premises. With the Film Guild Cinema, Kiesler created the first 100% Cinema in 1929 in New York, an icon of modern cinema architecture, indeed, with additional projections on side walls and the ceiling of auditorium it is an early example of Virtual Reality.
Into the 1930s Kiesler worked on furniture and lamp designs and erected his Space House, his vision of a family home as a 1:1 model in the show rooms of the Modernage Furniture Company in New York in 1933. Many core issues of Kiesler’s theory on design, respectively architecture, above all his “spacetime architecture” concept are formulated here for the first time.
After an interruption of more than ten years, Kiesler began to work in theatre again in 1934. He made a successful début in the New York theatre scene with the stage design for George Antheil’s Opera Helen Retires, which led to an engagement at the Juilliard School of Music. Around 60 decors were created there during his teaching career of 25 years. With the Woodstock Theater (1929) and the Universal Theater (1959-62) Kiesler created two prototypes of multi-functional cultural venues, which were however only realised as models.
From 1937 to 1941, Friedrich Kiesler directed the Laboratory for Design Correlation at Columbia University in New York and developed his theory of Correalism, an holistic approach to design based on scientific analysis that revolved around the human being. Kiesler’s research led him to concentrate intensively on human perception and he developed the Vision Machine, through which he sought to visualize human vision as an active process. These studies formed the basis of his later exhibition designs. In the course of the 1940s Kiesler also worked on two extensive book projects – a publication of his theory of design of Correalism, and a cultural anthropology of architecture with the sonorous title “Magic Architecture”. Both writings remained unpublished.