Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely is considered to be the father of the Op Art movement, a style known for creating optical illusions—often extremely psychedelic ones—from extremely precise repeating patterns, interlocking shapes and vivid yet strictly defined color palettes. In his hands, mundane elements became a wholly unique geometric abstract art. Vasarely’s Zebra, created in the 1930s, is considered by some to be the earliest example of Op Art. His notion of visual kinetics considered the viewer’s perception of the work—indeed where they stood as they looked at it—to be integral to the creation of his artform. In his more sculptural work (plastique cinétique) he might superimpose acrylic panes that would dynamically move—at at least create the perception of movement—as you walked around it, or past it. He was also an innovative architect.
His Folklore planetaire serial art was first unveiled to the public in 1963 and there have been several (now quite expensive) innovative monographs dedicated to his work that usually contain foldout panels and portfolios of clear acetate sheets that can overlay the images. Two museums of his work were set up in the mid 70s, but have now largely been allowed to fall into disrepair. Examples of other “name” Op Art players who followed in Victor Vasarely‘s wake were Bridget Riley, Yaacov Agam and Jesus-Rafael Soto.
Although Vasarely’s time of greatest prominence was the 1960s and his work has gone in and out of fashion since, his reputation is on the upswing today as “mid century modern” enthusiasts have rediscovered his work via the pieces seen on the walls in Roger Sterling’s office in Mad Men. (Sterling is exactly the sort of person who would’ve had multiple Vasarely prints in his office. I thought that was a deft and knowing touch on the part of Mad Men‘s art directors.) What was once for sale on the early days of eBay for mere hundreds of dollars can sell for ten times (or more) what they sold for in the 90s. You can also see his influence on the art direction of Gaspar Noé‘s Enter the Void.
Some characteristic examples of Victor Vasarely‘s work follow.
More after the jump…