1889 - 1952

David Kakabadze: experiments with art and technology

Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace

Delve into the story of this multidisciplinary Georgian artist - avant-garde painter, innovator graphic artist, film director, stage designer, art researcher, theorist, and pioneer of 3D cinema.

A multi-faceted mind
Mathematics, physics, chemistry, all had a great influence on his artistic work - wrote Kirill Zdanevich about David Kakabadze. One of the most significant figures of Georgian art wore many hats: avant-garde painter, graphic artist, film director, stage designer, art researcher, theorist, experimenter, pioneer of 3D cinema…  A multi-talent, he was also an art scholar and innovator in the field of cinematography. 

David Kakabadze was born into a peasant family in the village Kukhi (Imereti, Georgia) on August 26, 1889. As a young man, he was sponsored by local philanthropists and studied natural sciences at St. Petersburg University.

After graduating from the university, in 1916, Kakabadze returned to Georgia. He taught physics and mathematics in a Tbilisi school.
On November 22, 1917, the physics and mathematics examination committee qualified David Kakabadze for a second-degree diploma in biology from the University of Petrograd (today, Saint Petersburg). Besides the subjects related to his major, he passed examinations in general physics, crystallography, chemistry, fundamentals of higher mathematics, and many other fields.

Art is a Science
In one of his publications, "Paris 1920-1923", David referred to the ambitions and content of modern art. From his point of view, old forms did not meet the new requirements of an "era of machines and cinematography". These two - the machine and film - were of paramount significance in the formation of 20th century art. In its clarity and effectiveness, the motor embodied the era. The old static world has become dynamic, it is continuously evolving and it is in great need of new art forms.

With his whole heart and mind, Kakabadze anticipated the arrival of a new era, for which he was more than welcome. He followed the concept of Leonardo da Vinci's that art is a science and it must aspire to universality.

The artist lectured on various aspects of visual arts and developed his interest in kinetic form. He was an outstanding representative of the technical vision.

During his Paris years, David considered film to be the most outstanding achievement of modern civilization and a prime vehicle for the dissemination of knowledge.

It is no wonder that the artist got involved in trying to further improve the film screening technology and became, in 1923, one of the pioneers of three-dimensional cinema.

Invention of glassless stereo cinematography
The painter-scientist was the first to work out an idea of stereo cinema that did not require special spectacles. In 1922, he concluded an agreement with M. Muller and K. Kobakhidze on the invention of the “Glassless Stereo Cinematography.” For that purpose, a joint-stock ‘Stereo Cinema’ company was established with fifteen shareholders and a capital of 225,000 francs. David managed to have a factory built and hired two engineers in order to start implementing his plan. Two pieces of equipment were to be invented: a camera and a projector. In the beginning, things were going well, the factory manufactured mirror-lenses which yielded a profit, alongside the main project.

In Kakabadze's design, the images shot separately for each eye fall on a screen whose surface is reflecting (but not a mirror). The beam of light targeted for the right eye must be coordinated, upon reflection, with the optical axis of the right eye, and the beam intended for the left eye must be directed to its optical axis.

In this way, both eyes perform a consecutive selection of the respective images and construct the volume. This produces the stereoscopic effect.

Between 1922 and 1925, David patented his invention in eight countries of Europe and America. The first patent was issued in France: #547978 “Stéréo cinématographe donnant la vision du relief naturel”. Demandé le 27 février 1922, a 16h 45m a Paris (#563. 486 Stéréo-cinématographe. Demandé le 10.III.1923 a Paris).

Other inventions
Besides stereo cinema, Kakabadze worked on the idea of getting various grades of light in a single electric bulb, along with the method of restoration of the volumetric image from a photograph. David implemented his original technical innovations at the factory. He invented a way of regulating the illuminating power of the electric bulb, which made it possible to control the level of brightness. If the project succeeded, the artist would earn 180,000 francs. 

Then we can spend all our days just drawing... he would tell Lado Gudiashvili, a friend of his.

But they never achieved what they had aimed for.

As David wrote to his brother Sergo, he was not satisfied with the engineers, who worked too slowly.

The money was spent but the project was not completed.

Towards the end of 1925, David was forced to give up his work on the experimental stereo film camera and projector; he postponed the project indefinitely.

In 1927, he decided to return to Georgia.

The mirrors, lenses and other optical elements once manufactured at the factory can be found in his constructive and decorative collages.

Like many of his contemporary Soviet artists and scientists, David Kakabadze had a dramatic life caused first and foremost by the restrictions the Soviet regime imposed on the freedom of creativity.

As an artist and scientist, he never lost his dignity, nor was he ever subservient towards those in power.
That was why he turned out to be unacceptable for the Soviet world.

In 1938, the Scientific Research Film and Photo Institute (NIKFI) in Moscow reviewed Davit Kakabadze's invention and denied him the possibility of continuing the experiments aimed at the project implementation.

In 1942, the same institution announced the first system of glassless stereo-cinema “invented” by Semen Ivanov; Ivanov's system was identical to that of David Kakabadze's.

Kakabadze died on May 10, 1952, forgotten and separated from the Western world.

Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Film and Choreography - Art Palace
Credits: Story

Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography - Art Palace

George Kalandia
Mary Kharaishvili
Irakli Zambakhidze
Irina Moistsrapishvili

The narrative was created based on Ketevan Kintsurashvili's book "David Kakabadze - a 20th Century Classic"

Special thanks to the Yale University Art Gallery, The Museu Colecção Berardo and Ketevan Kintsurashvili

Find out more about the artist in our exhibit David Kakabadze: artistic legacy.


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.