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Op-Art Revisited

Post #1236 • September 24, 2008, 3:45 PM • 9 Comments

Buffalo, NY - The irony of Op Art Revisited at the Albright Knox Museum is that Josef Albers crushes everyone else in the show. He does this with the least means - no motors, no complementary hues, no wicker-weaves of blended gradients, and with the least overt use of what me might as well call Oppishness. The trickery on display in this exhibition is awesome, and that's the main reason to see a show like this, even if it has you clutching your temples - or your stomach - by the time you've seen several roomfuls of it. But the gadgetry, optical illusions, kinetics, and visual goofiness tend to overwhelm the art, and the best artists using Op techniques can at least to some extent prevent them from doing so. Bridget Riley looks especially good here in a piece called Vein. It ought to degenerate into wallpaper, but does not thanks to the optical grouping of warm and cool colors, which creates a sort of foreground/background effect. (The Karin Davie next to it does the reverse, looking like it should set up as a painting and instead degenerating into wallpaper. Art is funny stuff.) The 1963 Larry Poons is handsome but will make no one regret that he abandoned the movement. Vasarely (official website here) looks as dated as disco.

One telling grouping puts a 2004 installation of rotating disks by Olafur Eliasson near similar-looking disks adorned with black and white spirals from the '60s by Karl Gerstner and Francis Celentano. The Gerstner uses warped glass to make the spirals appear to expand and contract as you walk by. The Celentano spins, creating a hypno-disk effect. The Eliasson twirls three suspended glass disks in front of a lamp, and the metallic concentric circles applied to them simultaneously cast shadows and reflections on the walls. It's all nifty, consummately nifty, but it peaks at niftiness, and it indicates that in forty years we might expect Eliasson's reputation to compare to Celentano's, a name that will occur to some future curator when he revisits one of the many novelty acts of 20-21st Century art.

Francis Celentano: Kinetic Painting III, 1967, lacquer on masonite, motorized, diameter: 48 inches (121.92 cm.), gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1968, Albright-Knox Art Gallery




September 24, 2008, 8:50 PM

Op art? Isn't that an oxymoron?



September 25, 2008, 10:25 AM

I wish you knew what you were talking about. And yes, Jack, Op Art is an oxymoron.



September 25, 2008, 10:29 AM

I sure wish that people who disagree with me would trouble themselves to form counterarguments.



September 25, 2008, 10:59 AM

I think he meant to say he wished HE knew what you were talking about...



September 25, 2008, 1:15 PM

Albers was in the original Op Art show ("The Responsive Eye") at MoMA in 1965, but I never thought of him as an Op artist, except for a few linear things he did.

Op art, to be called that, should incorporate some kind of visual trick or illusion, it seems to me.


Chris Rywalt

September 25, 2008, 1:48 PM

I don't know if Op Art strictly should have a trick or illusion; to me, it's Op if it plays with the physics of your eye, or of perception. If it exploits vagaries in how we perceive colors or form, then to me, it's Op. Essentially, if I get a little dizzy, I consider it Op.

I mean, a lot of art works using tricks or illusions. But I'm guessing you mean something like an optical illusion, not so much illusions of depth and so forth. Although the line between them is sometimes hard to find -- if I manipulate value such that a sitter's far shoulder appears further away than their near shoulder (something of which I'm not currently capable, by the way), is that a trick or illusion?

These categories are mostly useless anyway. I'm having a harder and harder time answering people when they ask -- and they often do -- "You're a painter? Really? What do you paint?" Even painters ask this question, and you'd think they'd know better. What do I paint? I dunno. Stuff. I put paint on panels. Sometimes I say I paint kind of like Matisse, which is strictly true, but make me sound insanely egotistic. "There are but three painters in the world: Matisse, myself, and everyone else."



September 25, 2008, 4:23 PM

"I don't know if Op Art strictly should have a trick or illusion; to me, it's Op if it plays with the physics of your eye, or of perception."

Bah. Monet does that, but he's not Op. I'm with Opie... Op-art is short for optical-illusion art. The Turell things mentioned on the next thread might qualify...


Chris Rywalt

September 26, 2008, 12:40 AM

Turrell's holograms (or holographs, I guess) might be a form of Op Art, since they are basically advanced optical illusions, I suppose. The other works I saw from him weren't really illusions. They're exactly what they are, which is rectangles of light. They're surprisingly consistent across their area. And I seem to remember now that each one very very slowly changed color -- almost imperceptibly. But I wouldn't class them as illusions. Instead of Op Art, call his work "Hey, Like, Groovy, Dude" Art.

I think the difference between Monet and Op is Op toys with the physics of seeing for no other reason, while Monet did it trying to get across a specific feeling of place or time. The main thing about Op isn't, to me, that it's an illusion or a trick, but that it's messing with the parameters of visual perception for no other reason than to make viewers say, "Whoa!" I mean, some optical illusions don't even look like illusions until someone tells you the trick -- "Both these lines are the same length" for example, or "These lines are actually all parallel".



September 26, 2008, 9:53 AM

I could imagine seeing both those images you linked to as paintings in an Op Art show... Well, the checkered one for sure. The other one is more like minimalism...



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