F eatured in this sale is a remarkable selection of works educing a comprehensive narrative of Concrete Art and its development into such movements as Op Art, kineticism, and hard edge painting. Sharing an impetus from the tenets of Neo-Plasticism as defined and advanced by Piet Mondrian, these intertwining artistic schools all celebrated the Modernist ideal of a visual impression rooted in the relationship between form and function within a framework of analysis and rationality. From works by early progenitors like Victor Vasarely and Lolo Soldevilla, to late examples by Ilya Bolotowsky and Antonio Asis, there are lots encompassing the full range of these geometric abstractions.
One of the most beguiling of these tendencies was Op, or optical, Art. Inspired by the Neo-Plastic and constructivist inclination toward ambiguous forms, contrasting colors, and bold intersecting lines, Op Artists emphasized the purely visual experience of art. Time magazine coined the term Op Art in 1964, in response to Julian Stanczak's show Optical Paintings at the Martha Jackson Gallery, to mean a form of abstract art (specifically non-objective art) that uses optical illusions. Stanczak’s Water from 1962 (lot 49) is a remarkable early optical work by the artist, that demonstrates the artist’s interest in the impression of movement, as the oscillating lines appear to advance and recede under the viewer’s gaze. His Concurrence (lot 10) reflects a later shift toward bright colors and vibrating patterns, creating a sense of swelling or warping. Likewise, Tega-Or from 1966 (lot 11) is an archetypal example of Op Art by Victor Vasarely, one of the movement’s originators and most famous exponents along with Bridget Riley. Other artists, like Toni Costa, built on Op Art’s interest in virtual movement by exploring the possibility of real motion, producing kinetic art. Costa’s Dinamica Visuale, lot 13, bridges the gap between optics and kineticism through experimentation with light, shadow, and reflection with its twisting, folding, geometric patterns of ribbon.
At the same time, another school of thought was emerging that shared the same affinity for geometry, intense color, and clear, unitary forms, yet looked rather different: hard-edge abstraction. An early proponent, Nicholas Krushenick developed his signature “pop abstract” style as a synthesis of Op, Pop, Minimalism, and Neo-Plastic painting. The formal rigor and graphic composition of such works as Yellow Eros (lot 1) play with perception and optical tricks, yet remain resolutely rectilinear and stable in a way Op Art does not. Similarly, inspired by Mondrian’s advocation of ideal order in the visual arts, Ilya Bolotowsky utilized a high-keyed palette, simplified shapes, and meticulously ordered balance in his work. Abstraction in Two Blues (lot 2) and Scarlet Diamond (lot 65) are both later examples of his classic style.
These movements of the mid-twentieth century were not limited to capitals like Paris and London; artists from Latin America carried these ideas back and forth across the Atlantic, building kinetic movements both in Europe and in the Americas.
For instance, Antonio Asis began his career as a studio assistant to Jesús Rafael Soto and formed bonds with other kinetic artists including Tinguely, Vasarely and Agam. Fascinated by the phenomenon of light moving through stationary objects, he began the series of Vibrations to which lots 48 and 50 belong; in these works, light passes first through a perforated grid, where it is reflected onto a patterned board, creating infinitely varied patterns that seem to emerge and dematerialize before the viewer. Equally, Ernesto Briel studied design and photography at the Parsons School of Design in New York and became transfixed with opto-kinetic trends that had begun to arrive from across the Atlantic through the 1950s; confined to Cuba by political circumstance through the 1960s-70s, he created intricate compositions that propose a complex array of undulating, intertwining geometric forms, resulting in dynamic visual conundrums. Untitled [Two Works] (lot 47) is an outstanding example of his early ink drawing from this period.
Parallel to the diverse opto-kinetic movements emerging in Europe at the midcentury, the Concrete movement in Cuba was born of earlier European Neo-Plasticism and global movements like Grupo Madí, following similar utopian, planar geometric aesthetics toward a politically-engaged, spectator-centric artistic approach. Loló Soldevilla (lot 43) and her partner Pedro de Oráa (lot 52) formed the group Diez Pintores Concretos (which included Wifredo Arcay, lot 44, Salvador Corratgé, lot 45, Sandú Darié, lot 4, Luis Martínez Pedro, lots 51 and 205, and José María Mijares, lots 66 and 169) in Havana in 1959, moving from the purely visual idiom of Neo-Plasticism towards complex ideological ends, exploring concepts of space and time through transformable plastic objects.