By Adriana Alvarez-Nichol
Vice President, Hong Kong Art Gallery Association
Founder and Director, Puerta Roja Limited
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Op Art, the international art movement that used optical illusions and geometric patterns to produce effects that both confuse and stimulate the eye. Op and Kinetic Art were launched with Le Mouvement, a group exhibition at the iconic Galerie Denise René in Paris in 1955, but it was first formally recognised after the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA) presented the seminal show; The Responsive Eye in 1965. The eye-catching, imaginative and vertigo-inducing paintings and sculptures swept the art world and enamoured viewers and the media.
Crucial to the MOMA exhibition was its focus on the international dialogue amongst artists. An unprecedented global roster of 99 artists from 15 countries were presented. This movement reflected the artists’ desire for collective achievement and dialogue. The incorporation of the viewer himself as a key component of the work, and the straightforward unpretentious representations, made the art inclusive, a universal language of optimism that could reach all.
Such ideas brewed deeply in Latin America and since the 1930’s diverse currents of geometric abstraction were developed by artists, particularly from Argentina and Venezuela. Uninterrupted by the horrors of the war in Europe these artistic expressions blossomed. Fuelled by optimism and idealist notions of progress, South American artists looked to change the world through reason and order. Inspired by science and mathematics, artists developed their own visual expression for their vision of the future.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s several Venezuelan and Argentine artists further explored the phenomenon of human perception through colour and motion with extreme rigour and creativity. These included from Argentina Luis Tomasello, Julio Le Parc, Antonio Asís and Eduardo McEntyre. Their intense use of colour and changing patterns gave their creations an almost sonorous vibrancy that could not be ignored.
After an amazing run, the reception of Op Art started to wane and during the 1970s conceptual art became the next “big thing”. Ideas, instead of formal or visual content, became the new fascination, and observers began to belittle the Geometric and Op Art movements as gimmicky and even shallow.
However, it was the strength of the philosophical ideals at the heart of the artists’ intent that would ensure the movement’s lasting legacy and current revival. Over the last two decades, the development of Geometric Abstraction and Op Art, including the importance of South American artists in its development, has been the subject of a myriad of exhibitions around the world. This year, The Illusive Eye reopened at El Museo del Barrio in New York with a celebration, but also a revision, of the original MOMA show. The exhibition re-establishes the enormous influence of the great artists from the 20th century but also opens the door for us to reevaluate the relevance of the movement to young contemporary artists and for society in the 21st century.
Technology as well as modern materials have undoubtedly opened new paths for contemporary artists to explore new variations of colour theory and optical illusion. Most importantly however, I believe, is that the essence and profound undercurrent of optimism and democratisation of art is more important than ever. Amidst our present troubled era, experimenting with illusion is not a sign of denial but one of hope for the future.
The exhibition Sensorial Geometries at Puerta Roja presents the work of four Argentine artists exploring the universal language of geometric and optical expressions, each with a very individual and personal perspective. The exhibition contrasts the work of 20th century master Luis Tomasello, where economised and minimalist structures are filled with the vibrations of light, with the exuberant and colour-saturated paintings by young talent Mariano Ferrante. Antonio Asís works dazzle and almost confuse with psychedelic intensity, despite the inherent simplicity of the execution. Ventoso, furthers Tomasello’s three-dimensionality and Asís’ optimal illusions by presenting a unique language of sculptural and tactile polymer constructions or “assemblages” that tease and defy the perceptions of the viewer.
The works of these endowed four artists, masters and emerging talent, will create a myriad of sensorial emotions and a memorable sense of belonging, of personal relevance in the viewer. Such were the ideals of the artistic movement from the 1960’s that remain as, or more, relevant today.
Adriana Alvarez-Nichol, Puerta Roja, Sensorial Geometries, 2016
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