“Art must become generous and totally diffusible…art must be truly contemporary and not posthumous. From now on, the new technologies are here to diffuse art instantaneously to the masses.”
- Victor Vasarely, 1953
Victor Vasarely was undoubtedly an artist ahead of his time. Predating the computer age, his pristine geometric shapes filled with bold bursts of color and starkly contrasting black and white patterns form a utopian illusion, created solely by the hand of the artist yet remarkably digital and graphic in spirit. In this sense, Vasarely anticipated the ways in which computers and technology would profoundly impact mankind decades later.
Victor Vasarely in front of two of his paintings.© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS ), New York / ADAGP , Paris.
To master his technique, the artist examined the relationship between art and science. Vasarely said, “The two creative expressions of man...meet again to form an imaginary construct that is in accord with our sensibility and contemporary knowledge.” He observed how art reconstructs the natural universe to make it materially comprehensible. In examining these relationships and how they pertain to our everyday world, the artist quickly adopted an “art for all” approach, which would become the key paradigm under which he worked. Vasarely said, “All architects, painters, sculptors must learn to work together. It is not a matter of negating the masterpieces of the past, but we have to admit that human aspirations have changed. We must transform our ancient way of thinking and conceiving art; particularly in the cities we must share it, make it accessible to all.”
There was a growing awareness of Vasarely’s practice in the late 1940s through the 1950s. His ideas were adopted by major media including advertising and fashion, but his career marked a definitive milestone when the term “Op Art” was coined in a 1964 TIMES article published in anticipation of the historic Museum of Modern Art, New York exhibition, The Responsive Eye. Prepared by the museum’s Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions, William C. Seitz, the exhibition featured 120 works by 99 different artists. Vasarely’s canvases were displayed alongside works by such renowned painters as Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and Ad Reinhardt. A testament to the importance and celebrity of Vasarely’s work within the Op movement early on, the exhibition showcased six of his works, more than almost any other artist in the exhibition.
Garnering critical acclaim during the 53rd street show, the popularity of the Op aesthetic emerged alongside the already established Pop movement. The press release for the exhibition stated, “The new perceptual art marks a peak in the history of visual research; it utilizes the graphic demonstrations of experimental psychology and optics…it transfers experiments begun in design schools to the fine arts; it offers a new and rich source of study to scientists in several field.” It is with precisely this experimental and contemporary approach that Vasarely arose at the forefront of the Op Art phenomenon.
Victor Vasarely: Op Star is a varied selection of paintings spanning six decades, highlighting the incredible scope of the artist’s career. Vasarely is said to have never touched a computer during his lifetime, yet his practices certainly predicted the capabilities of future technology and their effect on spreading and sharing art for generations to come, art for all. While Vasarely’s celebrity in recent decades is not what it once was, his relevancy in today’s digital age, when examining artistic boundaries, is increasingly apparent. As the artist once said when laying eyes on a new machine, “Finally, my time is coming…a little late for me but fortunately not for my work” (Exh. Cat., Naples Museum of Art, Victor Vasarely: Founder of Op Art, 2004, p. 12).