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Zoltan Kemeny was born on March 21, 1907, in the hamlet of Banica, Transylvania, then part of Hungary. As an adolescent he learned to paint under the tutelage of a naïve sign painter. Apprenticed to a cabinet maker in 1921, he began to study technical drawing for furniture making in 1923. From 1924 to 1927 Kemeny took courses in architecture and interior decoration at the School of Decorative Arts in Budapest. Thereafter he enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Budapest, where he studied painting from 1927 to 1930.
In 1930 Kemeny settled in Paris; he abandoned painting and for the next decade worked as a designer of forged metal objects, a fashion designer and at other trades. After spending the years 1940 to 1942 in Marseille, Kemeny moved to Zürich. There he resumed painting and supported himself as a fashion designer and, from 1952, as an editor for a fashion magazine. His first solo exhibition took place at the Galerie des Eaux-Vives in Zürich in 1945. The following year the artist’s first one-man show in Paris was held at the Galerie Kléber, and he met Dubuffet. Subsequent to this encounter with Dubuffet, Kemeny began to introduce commonplace found objects such as pebbles, beads and dried grass into his works, to produce collage and reliefs with crude, rough surfaces.
The character of Kemeny’s work changed markedly in 1951 when he made his first translucent, colored reliefs, in which objects are attached to glass sheets. He sometimes enhanced the luminosity of these reliefs by placing an electric light behind the glass. By 1954 the artist began to renounce crude materials in favor of metal, the medium he continued to use throughout his life. Kemeny obtained Swiss citizenship in 1957. In 1959 he was honored with a retrospective at the Kunsthaus Zürich. He gave up his work as a fashion designer to devote himself exclusively to sculpture in 1960, the year of his first one-man exhibition in New York, at the Sidney Janis Gallery. He executed several major commissions in his last years, including a brass sculpture for the municipal theater in Frankfurt. Zoltan Kemeny died on June 14, 1965, in Zürich.