Edited by Peter Bogner and Gerd Zillner. Birkhäuser, August 2019. 296 p. ill. ISBN 9783035615500 (h/c), $44.99.
Reviewed March 2020
Rebecca K. Friedman, Assistant Librarian, Marquand Library of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University, firstname.lastname@example.org
The twenty-one essays of Frederick Kiesler: Face to Face with the Avant-Garde. Essays on Network and Impact focus on Frederick John Kiesler’s (1890-1965) extensive networking activities. Perhaps best known for his design of Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century gallery in New York (1942-7) and of Endless House (1947-60), Kiesler was a visionary and an intermediary in the twentieth-century art world. The collection as a whole explores who Kiesler (with first wife Stefi) saw and when, where, how close the relationship(s), and what artistic influences were shared from one to the other. The essays offer a rich, comprehensive overview of forty years of artistic activity in Europe and the United States.
Marking the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Austrian Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation in Vienna, the book includes contributions from an international group of scholars, curators, archivists, and architects. The first essay, by Gerd Zillner, a Foundation archivist and curator, provides the overall chronology of events in Kiesler’s life and identifies important contacts and events. Subsequent contributors discuss in depth one or more of the many “nodes” of Kiesler’s network.
In roughly chronological order from 1920s Europe until Kiesler’s death in New York in December 1965, the essays consider his theatrical design and connections made in Berlin and Vienna, his association with the De Stijl, notably Van Doesburg, with the Bauhaus, and Futurists, and his relationship with art historians Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat, and with artists, Hans Arp, Duchamp, Hans Richter, Mondrian, Gorky, Hans Hofmann, and others. One essay focuses on his design work in New York, and a final essay focuses on his only fully realized architectural project, the Shrine of the Book, in Jerusalem.
The volume is durably bound with a nicely weighted, non-coated ivory paper; sepia-toned images and photographs throughout—no color--match the brown endpapers. The index is conveniently divided into sections for persons, places, exhibitions, and projects. There are short author biographies, but no overall bibliography, nor a key to the symbols used to indicate references and images. Chapter numbers and titles at the top of every page assist in navigation.
The individual essays can be dense and full of details and references, but the stories, theories and projects described are fascinating. The publication is essential for art and architectural history research and large museum libraries due to the number of notable individuals, groups, and events mentioned, as well as the extensive primary source documentation that is cited, often translated from German. That being said, this volume contributes to an already large and growing bibliography on and by Kiesler, a singular figure whose impact on multiple fields was both wide-ranging and still yet to be discovered.