Open Daily 9:30–6:00, Monday Until 8:00


György Kepes

By Varujan Boghosian

I was happy to hear that a photograph of György Kepes is in the adjoining room because I want to tell the audience that he was a handsome man. I met Kepes in 1959. We both had the same dealer in Boston. I was not gainfully employed at the time and Kepes was doing a stained glass mural for the Time & Life building. He hired me along with three others to assist him and we worked in a huge empty mill factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts on plate glass panels approximately 9 feet tall by 4 feet across. Kepes would get up on a ladder, we would be down in front of a specific piece of glass; there were approximately ten of these panels in the room on wooden horses. We had huge blocks of colored glass scalloped on the top so that it reflected the light. Kepes would direct us to make configurations; he’d say, “Move the grays there, the blues here, the reds there.” We had a great time. He was a marvelous teacher and at the end of the day Kepes didn’t have a license so he never drove a car—I would drive him back to his home in Cambridge where Juliette, his beautiful wife usually had tea and crackers for those who were working on the mural. It’s so difficult to talk about someone who was actually like your buddy. I saw so much of Kepes during the following forty years. We lived in Provincetown, he had his beautiful house in Wellfleet designed by Marcel Breuer, and there would be common practice to have lunch with him, to take him out for a drive, to be invited into his studio where he did his beautiful paintings combining sand and pigment. Kepes was born in Hungary in 1906 and he died at the age of 95 in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The first time I saw Kepes was when I was an art student at the Yale School of Art and Architecture. He came to give a lecture on the pollution of cities and I remember it was a great slide lecture—there were shots of London, and Hogarth Scenes, but the wonderful thing was the woman sitting next to him, Juliette Kepes. Any of you who saw her would attest to the fact that she was a rare beauty. He met her in London when he was working with Moholy Nagy in a department store. He was walking down the street, she was walking with her mother, she was 17 at the time. He was immediately smitten with her, approached the mother, convinced her to let the daughter pose for a photograph or a painting (I don’t recall at the moment) and that started it. When Moholy Nagy went to Chicago in about 1935, Juliette and György joined him at the New Bauhaus, where he taught courses in light and basic design. In 1945, he was asked to join the faculty of M.I.T. where he stayed until 1974, as a full professor. In 1964 he founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, inviting artists of various disciplines to join with scientists in a program that was close to his heart—meeting art and science. I never heard Kepes say a bad word about anyone. He always pointed out the good things that architects and artists did. He inspired hundreds of young students at M.I.T. in architecture and in design. He was always encouraging. Towards the last years when he was still active in Wellfleet, after his retirement, he would always go to the bookstore restaurant in Wellfleet where he had his favorite sandwich—fish on a bun. He loved that. He loved coffee. He loved conversation. Teatime at his home was exciting—with ideas floating around. He was a wonderful human being and a dear friend.

Read at the Academy Dinner Meeting on November 14, 2002.

© 2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters