Op Art is an aesthetic investigation that grew from a preoccupation with optical effects and illusions freed from all representational or symbolic references. Allied with emerging interests in technology and psychology, it emerged as a world-wide phenomenon in the 1950s. One of the most sophisticated designs is by Victor Vasarely, a master of using dimensional vectors to transform shapes into forms. This work from his Vega series plays with spherical swelling grids to create an optical illusion of volume.
The Latin American contingent is well-represented by Venezuelans Carlos Cruz-Diez and Jesus Rafael Soto. This work from Cruz-Diez’s Physichromie series seems not to exist in a physical state of plastic slates and aluminum backing, but from the shimmering effect that occurs when the observer moves in relation to its precise patterns of gradient parallels. Similarly, Soto’s “Azul con Rojo” is also an observer dependent kinetic work. It projects as a systematically ordered high relief sculpture that repurposes the square as an ethereal projection.
Richard Anuszkiewicz is unmatched in his ability to symphonize interlocking patterns, symmetry, and color to harmonious perfection. His painting “Moonbow” beautifully illustrates the achievement of an artist who absorbed the insights of Josef Albers’ color perception theories and carried them forward in ways Albers never imagined.
To watch Tadasuke Kuwayama, a.k.a “Tadasky” armed solely with a stiff brush hovering over a turntable of his design is to marvel at his meticulous execution of concentric circles and perfect symmetry. One has only to experience the carefully articulated raked circles in the sands of a Kyoto rock garden to feel a cultural resonance beyond the Shinto temples built by his father he credits as an influence.
And here we have Wojciech Fangor. His blurred circles, amoebas, and cloud shapes seem to hover or gyrate or swirl or pulsate. As New York Times critic John Canaday noted, his work defies easy categorization. “As a colorist he has extended the limits — and keeps on expanding them — of the simplest optical laws…(Here)…the visual trickery of Op Art becomes ‘a portal opening on to new experiences of color in space.”
Each artist a participant in an art show for the ages in 1965 entitled “The Responsive Eye”. There, as the cameras of CBS whirled even the cognoscenti were upstaged by the crush of intense response there in the hallowed rooms of MOMA, New York. To that time, no exhibition had had higher attendance or generated as much heated debate. Op Art had made history.
Today, a time for reflection and an opportunity to reevaluate the genre. If so, let it begin with Francis Celentano’s personal statement- one that could easily serve as the group’s credo when he said, “for me, so called Op Art…functions as a metaphor for the distortions of perception, experience and reason generously provided by nature and culture.”