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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Visual Studies records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AC-0664

  • Staff Only
  • Select item to request

Scope and Contents

The collection document boxes contain documents covering the administrative records and facilities of the Center, its projects, individuals associated with the CAVS, correspondence, academic programming, publicity from events and exhibitions, and images of individuals, projects, and events. The collection also contains audio and videotape, as well as works on paper, which include portfolios of collaborative work and posters that trace the history of Center events, exhibitions, and academic programming.


  • Creation: 1962 - 2009


Conditions Governing Access

This collection must be reviewed to identify any restricted material before access can be granted. Please submit your requests at least ten business days before your desired visit to allow time for this review. An archivist will respond within five business days.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Historical note

The Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967 by Professor György Kepes. Kepes first arrived at MIT in 1946 to teach visual communications. Kepes’ arrival found MIT focused primarily on engineering and science, and not art. He noted that new directions in the world of art would rely on scientific expertise, and proposed that artists and scientists could bring a sense of balance to each others’ fields. This was a core concept behind the founding of the Center, which was ultimately dedicated in 1968 with the Center for Theoretical Physics.

Kepes’ goals for the Center included emphasizing collaborative across previously disparate fields in order to seek out the potential of emerging technologies in the process of creating works of art on a civic scale. To this end, artists, scientists, engineers, and designers would be selected to come to the Center as fellows, and pursue both individual and collaborative projects. Many of the first generation of CAVS Fellows focused on techniques and technologies such as light art and kinetic sculpture.

In 1974, the first international CAVS Fellow, Otto Piene, took over the role of director after Kepes’ retirement. Piene would direct the Center for 20 years until his own retirement in 1994. Piene’s leadership saw a new era of CAVS- a formalization of the academic program as the Master of Science in Visual Studies became MIT’s first graduate degree in the arts. CAVS Fellows took part in more frequent and higher profile projects, such as the Centerbeam kinetic sculpture featured at documenta 6 in 1977 and again on the National Mall at Washington, DC in 1978. The Center also hosted a series of conferences on Sky Art (a term coined by Piene to describe projects using the sky and space as a canvas and/or medium) in the 1980s. During Piene’s tenure, the scope of technologies explored by CAVS Fellows broadened to include steam, laser, holography, environmental sculpture, computer graphics and animation, video, laserdisc, sound, performance, dance, and more.

Following Piene’s retirement, CAVS had a series of directors that included previous Fellow and Director of Projects Elizabeth Goldring, Professor and Fellow Paul Earls, holographer Steve Benton, and Krzyzstof Wodiczko.

In 2010, MIT merged the Center with the Visual Arts Program (VAP) to form the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT).


48.23 Gigabytes

194 Linear Feet (186 containers)

1.07 Gigabytes (7 digital files)

Language of Materials



The Center for Advanced Visual Studies special collection is the repository of a 42 year history of collaborative and time-based productions generated by or related to the tenure of over 200 internationally recognized artist-fellows. The materials include moving images in various time based media, posters and artists’ prints, photographs, and over 130 feet of documents including artists’ notes, sketches, and correspondence. Materials concern the processes and productions of artists including György Kepes, Aldo Tambellini, Stan van der Beek, Charlotte Moorman, Antoni Muntadas, Nam June Paik, Otto Piene, Yvonne Rainer, Maryanne Amacher, Alan Sonfist, Takis, Jack Burnham, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Judith Barry, and John Malpede.


The collection is arranged into three series: Series 1 - Materials from CAVS Fellows, Series 2 - Administrative Records, Series 3 - Audiovisual Materials.

Digital files in the collection have been arranged intellectually with physical materials in topical series. When accessing the digital files they will reflect the original arrangement as presented on transfer.


Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Custodial History

Materials were originally held in the Archive at the Art, Culture, and Technology program at MIT and were transferred to Distinctive Collections in January 2023.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Chris Janney and Joan Brigham, The Artist Speaks video was transferred from a DVD in the collection in 2023 May by digital archivist, Joe Carrano.

Related Materials

Art, Culture and Technology Program at MIT records, AC-0666.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Visual Arts Program records, AC-0767.

Processing Information

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.

Processing Information

Chris Janney and Joan Brigham, The Artist Speaks video transferred from DVD using CCA tools SIP Creator tool by digital archivist, Joe Carrano.

Guide to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Visual Studies records
In Progress
Jeremy Grubman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022 November 30: Revised by Thera Webb to remove aggrandizing language and update box numbers
  • 2023 May 18: DDC digital archivist, Joe Carrano, updated extent, notes, and listing to reflect digital media transfer accession 2023-063.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US