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Monday, September 26, 2005

Chief Inspiration For Op Art

Op Art, style of abstract painting that made use of optical illusions and other striking visual effects. Emerging in the United States in the mid-1960s, op art generally took the form of brightly colored, tightly patterned geometric abstractions that greatly influenced fashion, commercial design, and other aspects of the popular culture of the era.

A chief inspiration for op art was German American artist Josef Albers, in particular his Homage to the Square. In this series, produced over 25 years, Albers painted squares nested inside one another to study the effects of variations in color, size, and placement. But Albers, a veteran of the avant-garde Bauhaus school op art and design in Germany that operated from 1919 to 1933, stood for the artistic values of an older generation.

The younger painters who pioneered op art promoted livelier, more eye-catching uses of color and pattern. Many early works of British artist Bridget Riley, for instance, involved curving parallel lines that seemed to undulate in waves across the painting’s surface.

Hungarian-born artist Victor Vasarély, considered one of the founders of op art , used warped geometric forms to create powerful spatial illusions, including dizzying descents into the “depths” of the painting.

A 1965 exhibition called The Responsive Eye, which was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, helped consolidate the op art movement. Albers, Riley, and Vasarély were among the painters included, along with such like-minded artists as Israeli Yaacov Agam and American Richard Anuszkiewicz.

Many artists who identified with very different impulses in contemporary art were also represented. Among them were Americans Kenneth Noland, Robert Irwin, Frank Stella, and Ad Reinhardt and Canadian Agnes Martin. Noland was a leader of color-field painting, a movement that emphasized the expressive effects of color.

Irwin and Stella were part of the minimal art movement, which used geometric abstractions to reduce art to pure form. Although the work of Reinhardt and Martin bore a resemblance to minimal art, these artists were associated by age and temperament with the earlier abstract expressionism movement and its emphasis on the work of art as a direct expression of emotional or spiritual experience.

Perhaps because of these artists’ allegiances to other movements with widely divergent philosophies, op art flourished only briefly; also, many artists resisted op art because they saw it as overly commercial and dependent on visual gimmicks. Its advocates, however, emphasized op art’s pioneering exploration of the mechanisms of perception and how these mechanisms can influence—and distort—our picture of the world.

“We know how hard it is to distinguish between seeing, thinking, feeling, and remembering,” curator William Seitz wrote in the exhibition’s catalogue essay. It was the intent of The Responsive Eye, he explained, “to dramatize the power of static forms and colors to stimulate dynamic psychological responses.”

After a long absence, the techniques of op art were revived in the 1980s by a small circle of abstract painters who were sometimes labeled NeoGeo for their new take on geometric abstraction. Among the best-known painters of the group were Americans Peter Halley, Peter Schuyff, and Philip Taaffe.

Anne Ahira
Editor The Best Affiliate Newsletter


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