Posts Tagged ‘kinetic art

10
Oct
18

Exhibition: ‘Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 14th October 2018

Curators: Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) and Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern, with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Curator for Photographs

 

 

Pierre Dubreuil. 'Interpretation of Picasso, The Railway' 1911

 

Pierre Dubreuil (1872-1944)
Interpretation Picasso, The Railway
1911
Gelatin silver print on paper
238 x 194 mm
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle
Purchased, 1987

 

 

An interesting premise –

“a premise is an assumption that something is true. In logic, an argument requires a set of (at least) two declarative sentences (or “propositions”) known as the premises or premisses along with another declarative sentence (or “proposition”) known as the conclusion” (Wikipedia)

– that the stories (the declarative sentences) of abstract art and abstract photography are intertwined (the conclusion). The two premises and one conclusion forms the basic argumentative structure of the exhibition.

Unfortunately in this exhibition, the abstract art and abstract photographs (declarations), seem to add up to less than the sum of its parts (conclusion).

Why is this so?

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The reason these two bedfellows sit so uncomfortably together is that they are of a completely different order, one to the other.

Take painting for example. There is that ultimate linkage between brain, eye and hand as the artist “reaches out” into the unknown, and conjures an abstract representation from his imagination. This has a quality beyond my recognition. The closest that photography gets to this intuition is the cameraless Photogram, as the artist paints with light, from his imagination, onto the paper surface, the physical presence of the print.

Conversely, we grapple with the dual nature of photography, its relation to reality, to the real, and its interpretation of that reality through a physical, mechanical process – light entering a camera (metal, glass, digital chips, plastic film) to be developed in chemicals or on the computer, stored as a physical piece of paper or in binary code – but then we LOOK and FEEL what else a photograph can be. What it is, and what else it can be.

Initially, to take a photograph is to recognise something physical in the world which can then be abstracted. Here is a tree, a Platonic ideal, now here is the bark of the tree, or cracks in dried mud, or Aaron Siskind’s Pleasures and Terrors of Levitation in which, in our imagination, the body is no longer human. This archaeology of photography is a learnt behaviour (from the world, from abstract paintings) where ones learns to turn over the truth to something else, a recognition of something else. Where one digs a clod of earth, inspects it, and then turns it over to see what else it can be.

We can look at something in the world just for what it is and take a photograph of it, but then we can look at the same object for what else it can be (for example, Man Ray’s image Dust Breeding (1920), which is actually dust motes on the top of Duchamp’s Large Glass). Photographers love these possibilities within the physicality of the medium, its processes and outcomes. Photographers love changing scale, perspective, distortion using their intuition to perhaps uncover spiritual truths. Here I are not talking about making doodles – whoopee look what I can make as a photographer! it’s important because I can do it and show it and I said it’s important because I am an artist! the problem with lots of contemporary photography – it is something entirely different. It is the integrity of the emotional and intellectual process.

Not a reaching out through the arm and hand, but an unearthing (a reaching in?) of the possibilities of what else photography can be (other than a recording process). As Stieglitz understood in his Equivalents, and so Minor White espoused through his art and in one of his three canons:

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

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And that revelation is something completely different from the revelation of abstract art.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

For the first time, Tate Modern tells the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. The birth of abstract art and the invention of photography were both defining moments in modern visual culture, but these two stories are often told separately.

Shape of Light is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the two, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day. It brings to life the innovation and originality of photographers over this period, and shows how they responded and contributed to the development of abstraction.

Key photographs are brought together from pioneers including Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz, major contemporary artists such as Barbara Kasten and Thomas Ruff, right up to exciting new work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, made especially for the exhibition.

 

 

“Despite its roll call of stellar names, the show’s adrenaline soon slumps. A rhythm sets in, as each gallery offers perhaps a single non photographic work and dozens of medium format black and white abstracts arranged on an allied theme: extreme close ups, engineered structures, worms’ and birds’ eye views, moving light, the human body, urban fabric.

Individually each photograph is quite wonderful, but they echo each other so closely in their authors’ attraction to diagonal arrangements, rich surface textures, dramatic shadows, odd perspectives and close cropping, that the same ‘point’ is being made a dozen times with little to distinguish between the variants. …

By the present day, abstract photography has given in to its already Ouroboros-like tendencies, and swallowed itself whole, offering abstract photographs about the process of photography, and the action of light on its materials. This is a gesture I relished in Wolfgang Tillmans’s show in the same space this time last year, when it was broken up by a plethora of other ideas and perspectives on photography. Here it feels like another level of earnest self-absorption with a century-long backstory.”

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Hettie Judah. ‘By halfway round I actually felt faint’ on the iNews website May 5th 2018 [Online] Cited 14/07/2018

 

 

 

Tate Curator, Simon Baker, meets Caroline von Courten from leading photography Magazine, Foam. Together they explore the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern.

 

 

 

 

Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) 'Workshop' c. 1914-5

 

Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957)
Workshop
c. 1914-5
Tate
Purchased 1974
© Wyndham Lewis and the estate of Mrs G A Wyndham Lewis by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)

 

Paul Strand. 'Abstraction Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut' 1916

 

Paul Strand (1890-1976)
Abstraction Bowls, Twin Lakes, Connecticut
1916
Silver gelatin print

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1917

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966)
Vortograph
1917
Gelatin silver print on paper
283 x 214 mm
Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum NY
© The Universal Order

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing László Moholy-Nagy’s K VII at centre. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'K VII' 1922

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
K VII
1922
Oil paint and graphite on canvas
Frame: 1308 x 1512 x 80 mm
Tate
Purchased 1961

 

 

The ‘K’ in the title of K VII stands for the German word Konstruktion (‘construction’), and the painting’s ordered, geometrical forms are typical of Moholy-Nagy’s technocratic Utopianism. The year after it was painted, he was appointed to teach the one year-preliminary course at the recently founded Bauhaus in Weimar. Moholy-Nagy’s appointment signalled a major shift in the school’s philosophy away from its earlier crafts ethos towards a closer alignment with the demands of modern industry, and a programme of simple design and unadorned functionalism.

Gallery label, April 2012

 

Man Ray. 'Rayograph' 1922

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Rayograph
1922
Gelatin silver print on paper
Private Collection
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

 

El Lissitzky (1890-1941) 'Proun in Material (Proun 83)' 1924

 

El Lissitzky (1890-1941)
Proun in Material (Proun 83)
1924
Gelatin silver print on paper
140 x 102 mm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photogram' c. 1925

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Photogram
c. 1925
Gelatin silver print on paper
Photo: Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham

 

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) 'Swinging' 1925

 

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
Swinging
1925
Oil paint on board
705 x 502 mm
Tate

 

Edward Steichen. 'Bird in Space' [L'Oiseau dans l'espace] 1926

 

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Bird in Space [L’Oiseau dans l’espace]
1926
Gelatin silver print on paper
253 x 202 mm
Bequest of Constantin Brancusi, 1957
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle

 

Shape of Light, exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing at centre, Constantin Brancusi’s bronze and stone sculpture Maiastra (1911). Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) 'Triangles' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)
Triangles
1928, printed 1947-60
Gelatin silver print on paper
119 x 93 mm
Pierre Brahm
© Imogen Cunningham Trust. All rights reserved

 

Joan Miró (1893-1983) 'Painting' 1927

 

Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Painting
1927
Tempera and oil paint on canvas
972 x 1302 mm
Tate
© Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Anatomies' 1930

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Anatomies
1930
Photo: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) 'Radio Station Power' 1929

 

Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956)
Radio Station Power
1929
Gelatin silver print on paper
Lent by Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© A. Rodchenko and V. Stepanova Archive. DACS, RAO 2018

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Xanti Schawinsky on the balcony of the Bauhaus' 1929

 

László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Xanti Schawinsky on the balcony of the Bauhaus
1929
Gelatin silver print on paper

 

Luo Bonian (1911-2002) 'Untitled' 1930s

 

Luo Bonian (1911-2002)
Untitled
1930s
Gelatin silver print on paper
Courtesy The Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing
© Luo Bonian

 

Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000) 'Homage to de Falla' 1937

 

Marta Hoepffner (1912–2000)
Homage to de Falla
1937
Gelatin silver print on paper
387 x 278 mm
Stadtmuseum Hofheim am Taunus
© Estate Marta Hoepffner

 

Nathan Lerner (1913-1997) 'Light Tapestry' 1939

 

Nathan Lerner (1913-1997)
Light Tapestry
1939
Gelatin silver print on paper
401 x 504 mm
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Gift of Mrs Kiyoko Lerner, 2014
Photo: Nathan Lerner/© ARS, NY and DACS, London

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Construction' 1938

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Construction
1938
Gelatin silver print on paper
286 x 388 mm
Tate
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Photo n.145' 1940, printed 1970s

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Photo n.145
1940, printed 1970s
Gelatin silver print on paper
310 x 280 mm
Tate
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998) 'Photo n.152' 1940, printed 1970s

 

Luigi Veronesi (1908-1998)
Photo n.152
1940, printed 1970s
Gelatin silver print on paper
320 x 298 mm
Tate
Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from Massimo Prelz Oltramonti and allocated to Tate 2015

 

 

A major new exhibition at Tate Modern will reveal the intertwined stories of photography and abstract art. Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art will be the first show of this scale to explore photography in relation to the development of abstraction, from the early experiments of the 1910s to the digital innovations of the 21st century. Featuring over 300 works by more than 100 artists, the exhibition will explore the history of abstract photography side-by-side with iconic paintings and sculptures.

Shape of Light will place moments of radical innovation in photography within the wider context of abstract art, such as Alvin Langdon Coburn’s pioneering ‘vortographs’ from 1917. This relationship between media will be explored through the juxtaposition of works by painters and photographers, such as cubist works by George Braque and Pierre Dubreuil or the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Otto Steinert’s ‘luminograms’. Abstractions from the human body associated with surrealism will include André Kertesz’s Distorsions, Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles and Bill Brandt’s Baie des Anges, Frances 1958, exhibited together with a major painting by Joan Miró. Elsewhere the focus will be on artists whose practice spans diverse media, such as László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray.

The exhibition will also acknowledge the impact of MoMA’s landmark photography exhibition of 1960, The Sense of Abstraction. Installation photographs of this pioneering show will be displayed with some of the works originally featured in the exhibition, including important works by Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and a series by Man Ray that has not been exhibited since the MoMA show, 58 years ago.

The connections between breakthroughs in photography and new techniques in painting will be examined, with rooms devoted to Op Art and Kinetic Art from the 1960s, featuring striking paintings by Bridget Riley and installations of key photographic works from the era by artists including Floris Neussis and Gottfried Jaeger. Rooms will also be dedicated to the minimal and conceptual practices of the 1970s and 80s. The exhibition will culminate in a series of new works by contemporary artists, Tony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota, exploring photography and abstraction today.

Shape of Light is curated by Simon Baker, Senior Curator, International Art (Photography) and Shoair Mavlian, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern, with Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Curator for Photographs, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) 'Number 23' 1948

 

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Number 23
1948
Enamel on gesso on paper
575 x 784 mm
Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery (purchased out of funds provided by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II and H.J. Heinz Co. Ltd) 1960
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2018

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978) 'Composition of Forms' 1949

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978)
Composition of Forms
1949
Gelatin silver print on paper
290 x 227 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' 1952

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Untitled
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper
277 x 164 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' 1952

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Untitled
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper
232 x 169 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) 'Untitled' c. 1950s

 

Guy Bourdin (1928-1991)
Untitled
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print on paper
239 x 179 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2015
© The Guy Bourdin Estate

 

 

Untitled c.1950s is a black and white photograph by the French photographer Guy Bourdin. The entirety of the frame is taken up by a close-up of peeling paint. The paint sections fragment the image into uneven geometric shapes, which are interrupted by a strip of the dark surface beneath that winds from the top to the bottom of the frame. There is little sense of scale or contextual detail, resulting in a near-abstract composition.

Bourdin is best known for his experimental colour fashion photography produced while working for French Vogue between 1955 and 1977. This photograph belongs to an earlier period of experimentation, before he began to use colour and work in fashion. Taken outside the studio, it shows Bourdin’s sensitivity to the natural world and his attempt to transform the everyday into abstract compositions, bridging the gap between surrealism and subjective photography. Bourdin’s early work was heavily influenced by surrealism, as well as by pioneers of photography as a fine art such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand and Bill Brandt. His surrealist aesthetic can be attributed to his close relationship with Man Ray, who wrote the foreword to the catalogue for Bourdin’s first solo exhibition of black and white photographs at Galerie 29, Paris, in 1952.

This and other early works in Tate’s collection (such as Untitled (Sotteville, Normandy) c. 1950s, Tate P81205, and Solange 1957, Tate P81216) are typical of Subjektive Fotografie (‘subjective photography’), a tendency in the medium in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Led by the German photographer and teacher Otto Steinert, who organised three exhibitions under the title Subjektive Fotografie in 1951, 1954 and 1958, the movement advocated artistic self-expression – in the form of the artist’s creative approach to composition, processing and developing – above factual representation. Subjektive Fotografie’s emphasis on, and encouragement of, individual perspectives invited both the photographer and the viewer to interpret and reflect on the world through images. Bourdin’s interest in this can be seen in his early use of texture and abstraction, evident in close-up studies of cracked paint peeling off an external wall or a piece of torn fabric. These still lives were often dark in subject matter and tone, highlighting Bourdin’s interest in surrealist compositions and the intersection between death and sexuality. The works made use of the photographer’s urban environment, with deep black and high contrast printing techniques employed to create a sombre mood.

This approach was also important for Bourdin’s early portraiture, which anticipated his subsequent work in fashion. The subject of his portraits – often Solange Gèze, to whom the artist was married from 1961 until her death in 1971 – is usually framed subtly, rarely appearing in the centre or as the main focus of the image. In these works the figure is secondary, showing how Bourdin let the natural or urban environment frame the subject and integrate the body into its immediate surroundings. Bourdin was meticulous about the creative process from start to finish, sketching out images on paper and then recreating them in the landscape, using the natural environment as a stage set for his work.

Shoair Mavlian
August 2014

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Jackson Pollock’s Number 23 at left. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Nathan Lerner’s Light Tapestry top left, and Otto Steinert’s Luminogram II centre right. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978) 'Luminogram II' 1952

 

Otto Steinert (1915-1978)
Luminogram II
1952
Gelatin silver print on paper
302 x 401 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection Nottingham
© Estate Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen

 

Brett Weston. 'Mud Cracks' 1955

 

Brett Weston (1911-1993)
Mud Cracks
1955
Silver gelatin print
203 x 254 mm
Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Christian Keesee Collection 2013
© The Brett Weston Archive/CORBIS

 

Peter Keetman (1916-2005) 'Steel Pipes, Maximilian Smelter' 1958

 

Peter Keetman (1916-2005)
Steel Pipes, Maximilian Smelter
1958
Gelatin silver print on paper
508 x 427 mm
F.C. Gundlach Foundation

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Unconcerned Photograph' 1959

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Unconcerned Photograph
1959
Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

 

Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé (b. 1926) 'Jazzmen' 1961

 

Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé (b. 1926)
Jazzmen
1961
Printed papers on canvas
2170 x 1770 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000
© Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé

 

 

The Jazzmen is a section of what Jacques Villeglé termed affiches lacérées, posters torn down from the walls of Paris. These particular ones were taken on 10 December 1961. Following his established practice, Villeglé removed the section from a billboard and, having mounted it on canvas, presented it as a work of art. In ‘Des Réalités collectives’ of 1958 (‘Collective Realities’, reprinted in 1960: Les Nouveaux Réalistes, pp. 259-60) he acknowledged that he occasionally tore the surface of the posters himself, although he subsequently restricted interventions to repairs during the mounting process. The large blue and green advertisements for Radinola (at the top right and lower left) provide the main visible surface for The Jazzmen. These establish a compositional unity for the accumulated layers. Overlaid are fragmentary music posters and fly-posters, some dated to September 1961, including the images of the red guitarists that lend the work its title. The artist’s records give the source as rue de Tolbiac, a thoroughfare in the 13th arrondissement in south-east Paris. Villeglé usually uses the street as his title, but has suggested (interview with the author, February 2000) that the title The Jazzmen may have been invented for the work’s inclusion in the exhibition L’Art du jazz (Musée Galliera, Paris 1967).

Villeglé worked together with Raymond Hains (b. 1926) in presenting torn posters as works of art. They collaborated on such works as Ach Alma Manetro, 1949 (Musée nationale d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), in which typography dominates the composition. They first showed their affiches lacérées in May 1957 at the Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, in a joint exhibition named Loi du 29 juillet 1881 ou le lyrisme à la sauvette (The Law of 29 July 1881 or Lyricism through Salvage) in reference to the law forbidding fly-posting. Villeglé sees a social complexity in the developments in the style, typography and subject of the source posters. He also considers the processes of the overlaying and the pealing of the posters by passers-by to be a manifestation of a liberated art of the street. Both aspects are implicitly political. As Villeglé points out, anonymity differentiates the torn posters from the collages of the Cubists or of the German artist Kurt Schwitters. In ‘Des Réalités collectives’ Villeglé wrote: ‘To collages, which originate in the interplay of many possible attitudes, the affiches lacérées, as a spontaneous manifestation, oppose their immediate vivacity’. He saw the results as extending the conceptual basis of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, whereby an object selected by an artist is declared as art. However, this reduction of the artist’s traditional role brought an end to Villeglé’s collaboration with Hains, who held more orthodox views of creative invention.

In 1960 Villeglé, Hains and François Dufrêne (1930-82), who also used torn posters, joined the Nouveaux Réalistes group gathered by the critic Pierre Restany (b.1930). Distinguished by the use of very disparate materials and techniques, the Nouveaux Réalistes – who also included Arman (b.1928), Yves Klein (1928-62) and Jean Tinguely (1925-91) – were united by what Villeglé has called their ‘distance from the act of painting’ as characterised by the dominant abstraction of the period (interview February 2000). In this way, Klein’s monochrome paintings (see Tate T01513) and Villeglé’s affiches lacérées conform to the group’s joint declaration of 27 October 1960: ‘The Nouveaux Réalistes have become aware of their collective singularity. Nouveau Réalisme = new perceptual approaches to reality.’ The Jazzmen, of the following year, embodies Villeglé’s understanding of his ‘singularity’ as a conduit for anonymous public expression.

Matthew Gale
June 2000

 

Edward Ruscha (b.1937) 'Gilmore Drive-In Theater - 6201 W. Third St.' 1967, printed 2013

 

Edward Ruscha (b.1937)
Gilmore Drive-In Theater – 6201 W. Third St.
1967, printed 2013
Gelatin silver prints on paper
356 x 279 mm
Courtesy Ed Ruscha and Gagosian Gallery
© Ed Ruscha

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Gregorio Vardanega’s Circular Chromatic Spaces 1967. Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Tate / Andrew Dunkley.

 

John Divola. '74V11' 1974

 

John Divola (b. 1949)
74V11
1974
Silver gelatin print
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© John Divola

 

Barbara Kasten (b.1936) 'Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/13' (ID187) 1974

 

Barbara Kasten (b.1936)
Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/13 (ID187)
1974
Salted paper print
558 x 762 mm
Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery and Bortolami Gallery, New York
© Barbara Kasten

 

James Welling (b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1986

 

James Welling (b. 1951)
Untitled
1986
C-print on paper
254 x 203 mm
Jack Kirkland Collection, Nottingham
© James Welling. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong and Maureen Paley, London

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing Sigmar Polke’s Untitled (Uranium Green) 1992. Hans Georg Näder © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018. Photo: © Tate / Seraphina Neville.

 

Sigmar Polke. 'Untitled (Uranium Green)' 1992

 

Sigmar Polke (1941-1910)
Untitled (Uranium Green) (detail)
1992
10 Photographs, C-print on paper
Image, each: 610 x 508 mm
The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2017
Photo: Adam Reich/The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn and DACS London, 2018

 

Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983) 'Untitled' 2014

 

Daisuke Yokota (b. 1983)
Untitled
2014
from Abstracts series
© Daisuke Yokota
Courtesy of the artist and Jean-Kenta Gauthier Gallery

 

 

Process is at the core of Yokota’s photographs. For his black-and-white work, such as the series Linger or Site/Cloud, Yokota sifts through an archive of more than 10 years of photographs in his Tokyo apartment. When he finds something that speaks to him – a nude figure, a chair, a building, a grove of trees – he makes a digital image of it, develops it, and rephotographs the image up to 15 times, until it becomes increasingly degraded. He develops the film in ways that are intentionally “incorrect,” allowing light to leak in, or singeing the negatives, using boiling water, or acetic acid. The purported subject fades, and shadows, textures, spots and other sorts of visual noise emerge. For his recent colour work, trippy, sensual abstractions, the process is similar, except that it is cameraless; he doesn’t start with a preexisting image. “I wanted to focus on the emulsion, on the different textures, more than on a subject being photographed,” says Yokota.

IN THE STUDIO
Daisuke Yokota
By Jean Dykstra

 

Antony Cairns (b. 1980) 'LDN5_051' 2017

 

Antony Cairns (b. 1980)
LDN5_051
2017
Courtesy of the artist
© Antony Cairns

 

Shape of Light, Exhibition Press Image, Tate Modern, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London showing the installation A Rock Is A River, 2018 by the aritst Maya Rochat. Courtesy Lily Robert and VITRINE, London | Basel © Maya Rochat. Photo: © Tate / Sepharina Neville.

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985) 'A Rock is a River (META CARROTS)' 2017

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985)
A Rock is a River (META CARROTS)
2017
Courtesy Lily Robert
© Maya Rochat

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985) 'A Rock is a River (META RIVER)' 2017

 

Maya Rochat (b.1985)
A Rock is a River (META RIVER)
2017
Courtesy Lily Robert
© Maya Rochat

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
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01
Sep
18

Exhibition: ‘Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art’ at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 7th June – 9th September 2018

Curator: Márton Orosz

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Victor Vasarely. 'Feny' 1973

 

Victor Vasarely
Feny
1973
Acrylic on canvas
180 x 180 cm
Colección Carmen ThyssenBornemisza
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018
(from the Vega Structures section of the exhibition)

 

 

Optic geomancer

No comment is really necessary. You just have to look at the spirit and inventiveness of the art. A pioneer of light and colour, a genius of plastic grid and form, is at play here!

The installation photographs show just how optically magnetic these works are. How they are holistic, singular works which then play magnificently off each other when placed in close proximity. Like the fugues of J.S. Bach these optical illusions create dazzlingly beautiful, intricate and powerful works, an earthly divination of a ‘planetary folklore’.

As my good friend Elizabeth Gertsakis said of the work of Robert Hunter, “he had the mind of abstract divination for a music of the spheres, of any geometry.”

Visit the VR Microsite for a Virtual Reality walk through of the exhibition.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

From 7 June to 9 September 2018, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza will be presenting a monographic exhibition devoted to Victor Vasarely (Pécs, 1906 – Paris, 1997), the founding father of Op Art. Comprising works from the Vasarely Museum in Budapest, the Victor Vasarely Museum in Pécs, the Fondation Vasarely in Aix-en- Provence and prominent loans from private collections, the exhibition will aim to offer an overall vision of the life and work of this Hungarian painter whose best output was created in France. The exhibition includes works from all the principal phases of Vasarely’s career in order to present a chronological survey of his artistic evolution. Visitors will thus be able to appreciate the key role played by the artist in the development of geometrical post-war abstraction and to learn about the experiments based on his artistic principles and theoretical reflections which he undertook with the aim of bringing art and society closer together.

Victor Vasarely is a towering figure in the history of abstract geometric art. The results of his experiments with spatially ambiguous, optically dynamic structures and their effects on visual perception burst into public consciousness in the mid-1960s under the name of Op Art, launching a short-lived yet extraordinarily popular wave of fashion.

The exhibition is organised in eight chronological sections and an introductory space devoted to Vega Structures, one of the best-known and most emblematic series produced by Vasarely at the height of his career named after the brightest star in the northern hemisphere’s summer night sky.

 

 

1. Vega Structures

Inspired by contemporary news reports about mysterious signals received from distant galaxies, Vasarely named many of his works after stars and constellations. The Vega pictures rely on convex-concave distortions of a grid-like network, a sophisticated combination of the cube and the sphere, symbolically referring to the two-way motion of the light that emanates from pulsating stars, and to the functioning of condensing galaxies and the expanding universe. The common denominator in these works is Vasarely’s realisation that two dimensions can be expanded into three simply by deforming the basic grid, and that, depending on the degree of enlargement or reduction, the elements in the deformed grid can be transformed into rhombuses or ellipses.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Victor Vasarely. 'Nora-Dell' 1974-1979

 

Victor Vasarely
Nora-Dell
1974-1979
Silkscreen on paper
87 x 78 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Manipur–negativo' (Negative Manipur) 1971

 

Victor Vasarely
Manipur–negativo (Negative Manipur)
1971
Acrylic on canvas
156 x 130 cm
Colección privada. Cortesía
Fondation Vasarely
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

2. Graphic Period

Blessed with exceptional drawing ability, Vasarely studied the basics of graphic design at Műhely (Workshop) from 1929 to 1930. The private school in Budapest was run by Sándor Bortnyik, a painter and graphic designer who had connections with the Bauhaus in Weimar. Through Bortnyik, Vasarely began to take an interest in the formal problems of the kind of art in which composition is based on geometric principles, and as such he adopted Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich and László Moholy-Nagy as his spiritual masters. In the first period of the artist’s career, which lasted until 1939, the imagery had not yet broken away from the primary visual world, that is, it was not entirely abstract, but the paradoxical optical effects produced by his networks of lines and crosses already bore hints of the illusionistic spatiality to come.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing the works Man in motion. Study of Motion (The Man) 1943 (left) and Material Study-Wood 1939 (right)

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Man in motion. Study of Motion (The Man)' 1943

 

Victor Vasarely
Hombre en movimiento – Estudio del movimiento (El hombre)
Man in motion. Study of Motion (The Man)
1943
Tempera on plywood
117 x 132 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

3. Pre-Kinetic Studies and Naissances

In 1951, the Galerie Denise René in Paris held an exhibition titled Formes et couleurs murales (Mural Forms and Colours). It was at this time that the Hungarian-French artist first considered representing the spatial problems of his pictures on a more monumental scale. At this exhibition, Vasarely used photographic methods to blow up his earlier pen-and-ink drawings, which he then arranged in series covering entire walls. These compositions were later rechristened Naissances (Births). The new name came about when the artist swept the photographic negatives of the drawings over one another, and disquieting, randomly arranged patterns emerged. In is Oeuvres profondes cinétiques (deep kinetic works), first exhibited in 1955, which Vasarely created following the same method of image-making, structuring them out of superimposed sheets of glass, acrylic or transparent foil, the sense of spatiality was combined with actual three-dimensional depth. Exploiting the physical laws of refraction and reflection, he produced spatial collages in a constant state of flux generated by the interference of two abstract patterns projected over each other, which were brought alive as the viewer changed position.

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Cébras - Estudio precinético' (Zebras. Prekinetic Study) 1939

 

Victor Vasarely
Cébras – Estudio precinético (Zebras. Prekinetic Study)
1939
Tempera, pencil, colour and white chalk on paper
62 x 57 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Zebra' 1938-1960

 

Victor Vasarely
Zebra
1938-1960
Wooden wool tapestry
150 x 214 cm
Victor Vasarely Múzeum, Pécs
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Sophia-III' 1952

 

Victor Vasarely
Sophia-III
1952
Oil on canvas
132 x 200 cm
Victor Vasarely Múzeum, Pécs
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. ‘Naissances’ 1954-1960

 

Victor Vasarely
Naissances (del album “Hommage à J.S Bach”, suplemento 3)
Naissances (From the album Hommage à J.S. Bach, Supplement No.3)
1954-1960
Multiple. Silkscreen on glass
56 x 49.5 x 7.5 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

4. Belle-Isle / Crystal / Denfert

In 1947, while spending the summer on Belle Île, an island off the coast of Brittany, he discovered the internal geometry of nature. He took irregularly shaped glass tiles and pebbles polished by the ocean waves and stylised their abstract forms into ellipses. In 1948, he produced delicate pen-and-ink drawings that conjured up the strange meandering patterns of the hairline cracks that pervaded the ceramic tiles covering the Paris metro station named Denfert-Rochereau. From his sketches, which reveal a vivid imagination, he created evocative paintings composed with well unified colours. Those same years also saw the beginning of his Crystal period, which was inspired by the strict geometric structure of the stone houses in Gordes, a medieval town built on a cliff in the South of France. Vasarely strove to transpose reality into the two-dimensional plane with the help of the axonometric approach.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left, the works Lan 2, 1953; Amir (Rima) 1953; and Vessant, 1952

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Vessant' (Versant) 1952

 

Victor Vasarely
Vessant (Versant)
1952
Oil on plywood
150 x 190 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Amir (Rima)' 1953

 

Victor Vasarely
Amir (Rima)
1953
Oil on plywood
140 x 180 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

5. Black and White Period (Kineticism)

Inspired by Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist composition, Black and White (1915), which embodies the harmony of spirituality and is widely interpreted as the ‘end point’ of painting, Vasarely conceived of the picture titled Homage to Malevich. Its basic component, a square rotated about its axis so that it appears as a rhombus, became the starting point of his ‘kinetic’ works.

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Tlinko-F' 1956-1962

 

Victor Vasarely
Tlinko-F
1956-1962
Oil on canvas
145 x 145 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Gixeh' 1955-1962

 

Victor Vasarely
Gixeh
1955-1962
Oil on canvas
170 x 160 cm
Museo de Bellas Artes, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left, the works Doupla, 1970-1975; Kotzka, 1973-1976 and Gixeh, 1955-1962

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left, the works Nethe, 1964; Noorum, 1960-1977 and Tlinko-F, 1956-1962

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left, the works Afa III, 1957-1973 Nethe, 1964; Noorum,

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Noorum' 1960-1977

 

Victor Vasarely
Noorum
1960-1977
Acrylic on canvas
112 x 84 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left, the works Taymir II, 1956 and Afa III, 1957-1973

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Taymir II' 1956

 

Victor Vasarely
Taymir II
1956
Acrylic on canvas
135 x 120 cm
Victor Vasarely Múzeum, Pécs
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

6. Universal systems built from a plastic alphabet

Vasarely presented the results of his analytical research into the Plastic Unit at an exhibition held in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1963. His formula for this was built on the structural interplay of form and colour. He regarded colour-forms as the cells or molecules out of which the universe was made. ‘The form-color unit […] is to plasticity what the particle-wave is to nature’, he declared. In pictures based on the mutual association between forms and colours, he claimed to perceive a ‘grammar’ of visual language, with which a set of basic forms making up a composition could be arranged into a system similar to musical notation.

The plastic alphabet

The plastic alphabet is a kind of programmed language with an infinite number of form and colour variations. The basic unit of the alphabet is a coloured square containing smaller basic shapes like squares, triangles, circles and rectangles. Vasarely used these patterns and primary colours plus endless colour permutations as the duplicating and changing elements in his works. In each unit there was a number which determined its colour, tone, form and place in the whole.

Vasarely saw that his plastic alphabet, by enabling serial production, could open the way to countless applications. It could be used as the basis for planning houses and whole environments for cities: it offered countless permutations of form and colour, and the size of the basic unit could be changed or enlarged as required.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from centre to right, the works Villog, 1979; Zila, 1981 and Pavo II, 1979

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Pavo II' 1979

 

Victor Vasarely
Pavo II
1979
Acrylic on plywood
60 x 60 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left to right, the works Vonal-Fegn, 1968-1971; Helios, 1964 (multiple) and Villog, 1979

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left, Doupla, 1970-1975; Kotzka, 1973-1976 and Vonal-Fegn, 1968-1971

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left, Bi-Octans, 1979; Doupla, 1970-1975; Kotzka, 1973-1976; Vonal-Fegn, 1968-1971 and Helios, 1964 (multiple)

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Vonal-Fegn' 1968-1971

 

Victor Vasarely
Vonal-Fegn
1968-1971
Tapestry, cotton and wool
252 x 255 cm
Victor Vasarely Múzeum, Pécs
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Kotzka' 1973-1976

 

Victor Vasarely
Kotzka
1973-1976
Acrylic on canvas
130 x 130 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Doupla' 1970-1975

 

Victor Vasarely
Doupla
1970-1975
Acrylic on canvas
210 x 114 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left Dirac, 1978 and Bi-Octans, 1979

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Bi-Octans' 1979

 

Victor Vasarely
Bi-Octans
1979
Acrylic on canvas
180 x 180 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

7. Algorithms and Permutations

Vasarely first discussed the necessity for his works to be duplicated and disseminated widely in 1953. Then, in his Yellow Manifesto of 1955 he outlined his ideas on the possibilities of re-creation, multiplication and expansion. He believed that a basic set of corpuscular elements, by virtue of their multiplicability and permutability, could be transformed using a pre-selected algorithm into a virtually infinite number of different compositions. The programmations that would record the picture-composition process onto graph paper assumed that the colours, shades and forms making up each image could be notated numerically, and even fed into an electronic brain to be retrieved at any time. Although Vasarely himself had never worked with computers, his principles led logically to the possibility of creating images with such technology. As conceived by the artist, in future, employing codes of colour and form that were objectively defined using alphanumerical data, his compositions could be recreated at anytime, anywhere in the world, by anybody at all.

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Stri-Per' 1973-1974

 

Victor Vasarely
Stri-Per
1973-1974
Acrylic on canvas
76 x 76 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left Kekub, 1976-1978; Black Orion, 1970; Marsan-2, 1964-1974 and Eroed-Pre, 1978

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Eroed-Pre' 1978

 

Victor Vasarely
Eroed-Pre
1978
Acrylic on cardboard
52 x 52 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Marsan-2' 1964-1974

 

Victor Vasarely
Marsan-2
1964-1974
Acrylic on canvas
202 x 253 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Orion noir' 1970

 

Victor Vasarely
Orion noir (de la serie “Kanta”)
Black Orion (From the “Kanta” series)
1970
Polystyrene
100 x 105 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Zint-MC' 1960-1976

 

Victor Vasarely
Zint-MC
1960-1976
Acrylic on canvas
179 x 153 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left Yllus, 1978; V.P. 102, 1979; Trybox, 1979 and Toro, 1973-1974

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Yllus' 1978

 

Victor Vasarely
Yllus
1978
Acrylic on canvas
87 x 87 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Trybox' 1979

 

Victor Vasarely
Trybox
1979
Acrylic on canvas
192 x 218 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Toro' 1973-1974

 

Victor Vasarely
Toro (Bull)
1973-1974
Acrylic on canvas
175 x 175 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Stri-Oet' 1979

 

Victor Vasarely
Stri-Oet
Acrylic on canvas
211 x 191 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of the exhibition Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid showing from left Stri-Oet, 1979; Cheiyt-Stri-F, 1975; Peer-Rouge, 1977; Woo, 1972-1975; Kekub, 1976-1978 and Black Orion, 1970

 

 

8. Planetary Folklore

In the early 1960s, Vasarely put forward a proposal for the use of a universal visual language formulated in accordance with the principle of the Plastic Unit, which he called ‘planetary folklore’. He believed that regularly arranged and numbered, homogeneous colours and constant forms, of the kind that could be manufactured industrially, could have meaning attached to them. His intention was for the opportunity of aesthetic pleasure to become part of the everyday environment. As Vasarely argued, artworks not only belonged in museums and galleries, but were also needed in every single segment of urban life. His concept, which built on the ideas of Le Corbusier and Fernand Léger, and which proclaimed a synthesis of the different fields of the arts, was for the building blocks of the cities of the future to consist of mass-produced, monumental ‘plastic’ works that could be extended to any desired size, which would provide limitless possibilities of variation. The first of his architectural integrations was implemented in Venezuela in 1954, on the campus of the Central University of Caracas; this was followed by monumental ‘plastic’ installations on buildings in Bonn, Essen, Paris and Grenoble.

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Ferde' 1966-1974

 

Victor Vasarely
Ferde
1966-1974
Collage on cardboard
78 x 77 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Victor Vasarely. The Birth of Op Art' at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

Installation view of (l-r):

Victor Vasarely
Estudio BR 14, serie “Pignons” Muros ciegos, Integraciones monumentales, Viviendas colectivas, Edificios grandes
Study BR 14. ‘Pignons’ Series: Blind Walls, Monumental Interations, Collective Dwellings, Large Buildings
1970
Mixed: Collage on board
75.8 x 81.8 cm
Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en- Provence
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

Victor Vasarely
Estudio BR 3, serie “Pignons” Muros ciegos, Integraciones monumentales, Viviendas colectivas, Edificios grandes
Study BR 3. ‘Pignons’ Series: Blind Walls, Monumental Interations, Collective Dwellings, Large Buildings
1970
Mixed: Collage on board
75.8 x 81.8 cm
Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en- Provence
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

9. Multiples

An important part of Vasarely’s art philosophy was his conscious refusal to discriminate between an individual work and its duplicate. He was convinced that an artwork came alive again when multiplied, and that the multiple was the most democratic form of art. His aim was to topple the elitist concept of owning unique and unrepeatable works by replacing it with the notion of making pictures for mass distribution. The artist experimented with the most diverse assortment of materials and techniques, from the most modern to the most ancient. Weaving workshops in Aubusson, following traditions dating back centuries, produced tapestries from his designs. Vasarely was also especially fond of the serigraph. His individually signed and numbered screen prints were commercially available on the art market, as were the multiple objects composed of individually handcoloured or industrially reproduced sheets mounted on wooden or metal backing materials.

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Kroa-MC' 1969

 

Victor Vasarely
Kroa-MC
1969
44 x 44 x 50 cm
Multiple. Metal, silk screen on metal
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Tridim- HH' 1972

 

Victor Vasarely
Tridim- HH
1972
Multiple. Acrylic on board
30 x 24 x 6 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Beryl-Positive' 1967

 

Victor Vasarely
Beryl-Positive
1967
Multiple, acrylic on plywood
36 x 36 x 4.5 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Ajedrez' (Chess Set) 1980

 

Victor Vasarely
Ajedrez (Chess Set)
1980
Plexiglass on acrylic board
70 x 70 x 15 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018

 

 

Vasarely and the ‘Op Art’ phenomenon

Márton Orosz

 

‘…here comes Op Art!’

Victor Vasarely, 18 April 1964

 

 

When the major exhibition titled The Responsive Eye opened at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1965, it made Optical Art famous almost overnight. The limelight was stolen by two Europeans: Josef Albers, who continued the legacy of the Bauhaus in his art, and Victor Vasarely. Both men were represented at the show with six works each. But whereas Albers, oft neglected by the critics, was turned into the black sheep of the movement by contemporary art history writing, for Vasarely, who was just reaching the peak of his career, the show served as a launch pad to fame.(…)

The scientific definition of Op Art came soon afterwards, with the first attempt made in 1967 by the German art historian, Max Imdahl. Imdahl interpreted the art of Victor Vasarely as deriving from the Orphism of Robert Delaunay, which ascribed meaning to colour, the Neo-Plasticism of Piet Mondrian, which rested on the symmetry of two-dimensional structures, and the Mechano-Faktura of Henryk Berlewi, which borrowed its aesthetic principles from the schematism of mechanical production. Vasarely, meanwhile, preferred to call his own invention Kineticism, and he was fully justified in doing so, because if we accept the contents of his art philosophical writings, published in chronological order under the title of Notes brutes, then the artist was the first person to consistently use this name for the movement. He coined the phrase ‘kinetic art’ in 1953, basing the term on the description of the movement of gases written by Nicolas Sadi Carnot, the nineteenth-century French engineer who developed thermodynamics. In the light of Vasarely’s consistency of thought, his wide-ranging knowledge and his enthusiasm for science, it would have been the logical outcome of his principles to classify his works under a style or movement of his own construction. Kineticism, however, was regarded by Vasarely as something more than a simple art movement. He not only referred to it in a formal sense, but also accorded it ethical, economic, social and philosophical functions. He believed it to be of greater significance than Cubism, and he was convinced the Kineticism offered, for the first time since the Renaissance, a synthesis of ‘the two creative expressions of man: the arts and the sciences’. The simultaneous representation of movement, space and time had already found expression in Constructivist art in the 1920s, but Vasarely’s Op Art was fundamentally different, in that it aimed to generate a spatial effect through the use of a two-dimensional surface by creating the illusion of motion in macro-time, whereby the image formed on the retina underwent virtual manipulation. Consequently, the name Op Art can be given to any artwork ‘that shifts during the spectator’s act of perception’. (…).

 

‘Optical’ paintings

(…) Vibrant surfaces created from patterns of geometric figures arranged according to a particular algorithm can be found among the mosaics of Antiquity. The first stage in the history of the autonomisation of retina-based art, however, came at the end of the nineteenth century with Pointillist painting, which relied on the scientific theory of the optical combination of colours, and with the so-called Divisionists, who strove to separate optical effects using an analytical method. Georges Seurat’s ‘optical painting’, however, remained firmly attached to the real spectacle. Primary shapes became a means of generating illusions with the arrival of non-objective, abstract art styles, especially Cubism. Optical games derived from periodic series of geometric elements were incorporated into the repertoire of applied photography in the second half of the 1920s. During his studies in Budapest, Vasarely may have come across such depictions, even in the printed press, such as the photograph of the Hollywood actress, Alice White, in a room of mirrors decorated with abstract patterns.

Yet optical illusion was not enough to bring about Op Art, which also needed the dynamism of kinetics. It became inseparable from the concept of the fourth dimension of motion-time, which tipped the static work out of its fixed position by involving the viewer and turning the eye into the active organ of sight. In this sense, Vasarely’s optical kineticism also posed the question of the dematerialisation of the artwork, for in his works, the actual spectacle is not present on the canvas at rest in front of us, but comes about through interacting with the work and is generated on the retina. Vasarely was never concerned with the type of mechanical movement that brought about the works of Jean Tinguely or Marcel Duchamp. The Hungarian artist’s planar kineticism was in this respect far more closely connected to visual research than to the approach of works that emphasise their industrial nature. (…)

 

Op Art as Algorithm

(…) When it came to the aesthetic and market values of artworks that existed in multiple copies, opinion was split even among the artists participating in the exhibition. In terms of form, the experiments into perception conducted by Vasarely and Bridget Riley, for example, had much in common, and yet their views on the democratisation and interdisciplinarity of art differed sharply. Unlike Riley, who always insisted on her paintings being one of a kind, Vasarely’s programme of art targeted a re-evaluation of the aesthetic of reproduced, duplicated objects. It was in this regard that Vasarely came closest to Pop Art and to its iconic exponent, Andy Warhol. In spite of this, Vasarely was not in thrall to Pop Art. He spoke appreciatively of its achievements, but he considered it to be a movement outside the realm of painting, a parody or caricature of its own times. Pop Art, meanwhile, suffered greatly from the fact that Op Art ultimately proved far more popular. ‘I am “pop” in the sense that I would like to be popular’, Vasarely wittily replied when one journalist pressed him on his personal position in Op Art, shortly after it had found fame as a fashion phenomenon. A few years later, at a reception held in the Galerie Spiegel in Cologne in September 1971, where a work by Vasarely hung on the wall beside Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nude, an iconic piece from the rival movement, the Hungarian-born artist was asked his opinion of Pop Art. He could not refrain from commenting that the essence of Pop was exaggeration. He then cast a malicious glance at Wesselmann’s painting before declaring, ‘Art is not about painting gigantic pictures for billionaires’. When it was subsequently suggested that his democratic views were not compatible with the high prices commanded by his works, he replied, ‘The critics compare me to hippies who loathe money but who want to get around by hitchhiking. And at such times it is of no concern to them that they are travelling with the help of General Motors, Shell and other billionaire companies’.

There was, however, a whole group of Pop-Art fans who would never have dreamed of denigrating Kineticism. Warhol, for instance, began to follow Vasarely’s career after seeing his works at the opening of The Responsive Eye. He was present at the artist’s exhibition held in 1965 in the Pace Gallery in New York, and his admiration endured until 1984, when he attended Vasarely’s birthday party, arranged by Yoko Ono. It was probably on this occasion that Warhol was given a handkerchief signed by Vasarely, decorated with a pre-kinetic zebra composition, which the American artist preserved among his relics up until his death. We would find few artists in the twentieth century who achieved more in rethinking the aesthetic of the multiplied artwork than Vasarely and Warhol, so there is a striking contradiction in the fact that the only work by Vasarely in Warhol’s collection was a monochromatic oil painting, titled Onix (1966)107, which actually represented the counterpoint to the paradigm expressing the latent artistic opportunities in duplication (including the entire spectrum of vibrant and saturated colours). (…)

Extract from the catalogue

 

Victor Vasarely. 'Transparence-XIII' 1952

 

Victor Vasarely
Transparence-XIII
1952
Kinetic object, silkscreen on plastic foils mounted on plywood
40 x 33 cm
Vasarely Múzeum, Budapest
© Victor Vasarely, VEGAP, Madrid, 2018
(from the Belle-Isle / Crystal / Denfert section of the exhibition)

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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