Op Art - you don't need to be an expert to get it
New Danish exhibition looks at the democratic drive behind the movement named by TIME magazine in 1964
There are few styles of painting so evocative of a time as Op Art. Its creators, whom E.H. Gombrich describes as being “interested in the optical effects of shapes and colours and how they can be made to interact on the canvas to produce an unexpected dazzle or flicker,” found their work favoured not only by Sixties gallerists and collectors, but also dress designers, nightclub promoters, record cover designers and even jigsaw puzzle producers.
In fact, the term Op Art was first published by Time magazine in 1964, echoing the slightly earlier coinage, Pop Art. The images meanwhile were taken up many outside the gallery system, including rock fans and fashion stylists, before the works began going out of style in the late 1970s.
Kinetic Art, or moving sculptural works created by the likes of Jean Tinguely and Nicolas Schöffer, rose and fell around the same time, attracting a similar, if not quite so large an audience. Today, both can be regarded as art-historical remnants, and yet both Op Art and Kinetic Art works continue to charm and amuse today’s gallery goers, without requiring much in the way of prior knowlege to appreciate them.M arvel at the wavy lines in one of Bridget Riley’s canvases and you are enjoying one of the few artistic experiences that requires almost no contextual knowledge
Next month the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark will show just how engaging these mid-century works remain, when it brings together around 100 Op and Kinetic Art pieces from 40 well-known artists, including Hungary’s Victor Vasarely, Britain’s Bridget Riley, and the Argentinean, Julio Le Parc.
The show, entitled Eye Attack: Op Art and Kinetic Art 1950-1970, is the first major presentation of Op Art and Kinetic Art in Scandinavia for more than 50 years. Its curators argue that the accessibility of these artworks was an intentional part of Op Art, arriving, as it did, at a time when the divide between high and low art, and long-accepted class distinctions, were becoming increasingly flimsy.
These years, Eye Attack curators Tine Colstrup and Kirsten Degel argue, were “typified by a modern experience of the mutability of everything and the breakdown of the stable, fixed points in the understanding of the world. The artists’ attempted to make art more democratic and outward-looking. The last of these goals succeeded emphatically, for rarely have mass culture, fashion and advertising welcomed a new aesthetic so warmly.”
For more on the show go here, for greater insight into this movement, and many others, consider EH Gombrich’s canonical art history work, The Story of Art.