“Vasarely. Sharing Forms” a homage to Op Art and Victor Vasarely at Centre Pompidou, Paris.
"Complexity thus becomes simplicity. Creation is now programmable"
Review by Zoltan Alexander
"Vasarely. Sharring Forms" by Victor Vasarely / © video by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Taking the last glimpse of freedom of our united Europe before the grand departure of Britain, (if ever), I spent precisely 30 hours in Paris to visit the exhibitions everyone is talking about: “Vasarely. Sharing Forms”, a homage to Op Art and Vasarely.
The Centre Pompidou presented the first major retrospective of Victor Vasarely, 55 years since his work was last exhibited. It is time for the new generation to discover Vasarely’s work and his extraordinarily prolific output outside of the art scene.
Through 300 works, paintings, studies of drawings, design objects, publications, architectural projects, sculptures and advertisements, the exhibition explores the world of Vasarely and showcases all the facets of the creation of the father of Op Art. The exhibition follows a chronological and thematic path from his artistic training in the wake of the Bauhaus movement to his final experiments inspired by science fiction, via his universal visual language and the ambition of art as a form of social mass media.
Victor Vasarely, born Győző Vásárhelyi in Hungary, in 1906, moved to Paris in 1930, where he worked as a graphic designer in advertising before devoting himself fully to art after the war.
His abstract style, based on the observation of reality, would rapidly start to integrate the quirks and disorders of vision. In the mid-1950s, he laid the foundations for what would become known, a decade later, as Op Art. A key moment in the history of abstraction, optical-kinetic art, based on a strictly scientific process in which paint became an art of time as much as an art of space. Vasarely’s work was fully rooted in the scientific, economic and social context of the 1960s and 1970s.
Having trained at Mühely (Workshop) in Budapest under Sándor Bortnyik, a former Bauhaus student, Vasarely learned to adapt the language of modernism to commercial communication. After moving to Paris his "Zebra" series begun to foreshadow the waves and vibrations of the kinetic period. Abandoning the literal use of form, Vasarely used various illusionistic processes to highlight the pitfalls of vision and the ongoing metamorphosis of the world.
It was during the war years, that Vasarely's artistic ambition truly asserted itself. Behind the three great cycles around which his work developed on the verge of the 1950s, we can discern the structures underlying the real world, perceived in its great cycles as well as in its most derisory manifestations.
"Crystal-Gordes" with its complex optical effects, became the model for his painting in order to reflect the disturbance and strangeness of vision. "Photographismes" and "Naissances" marked the reduction of Vasarely's language to black & white in the early 1950s. The reversibility of positive and negative photographic images is one of the sources of this development. In addition, the contrasts between black & white generated optical phenomena that determined a dynamic perception and oriented the creative process toward programming.
His paintings vibrate, flicker, scintillate in such a way that it cannot be perceived immediately in a flash, but through time. Vasarely was inventing what the next decade would call Op Art, one of the most significant developments of geometrical abstraction.
He developed a "plastic alphabet" in the early 1960s, consisting of a lexicon of six simple geometrical forms embedded in squares of pure colour. Permutations of geometric forms were cut out of a coloured square and rearranged.
He worked with a strictly defined palette of colours and forms (three reds, three greens, three blues, two violets, two yellows, black, white, grey; three circles, two squares, two rhomboids, two long rectangles, one triangle, two dissected circles, six ellipses), which he later enlarged and numbered.
As of 1965, each of the six pure colours of the plastic alphabet generated 12 to 15 intermediary chromatic values and the new colour chart introduced particularly refined shading effects into the contrasted and flickering mosaic of the works generated from the first alphabet. In order to master the very many combinatory possibilities Vasarely included them in a systematic and computerizable set of permutations and progressions and this pre-digital abstraction thus revealed its profound complicity with cybernetic thinking.
"Complexity thus becomes simplicity. Creation is now programmable" Victor Vasarely
Having defined a vocabulary capable of undergoing various adaptations and declensions with the plastic alphabet, Vasarely worked to disseminate his forms as widely as possible. Screen-prints, sculptures and posters testify to Vasarely's desire to expand art beyond the institutional milieu.
His immense popular success in the 1960s and 1970s no doubt surpassed his own hopes. His work was on display everywhere: in design and decoration, in fashion and shop windows, on book covers and magazines, record sleeves, in films, television and large-scale billboards all over the city. It was a rare example of society taking ownership of an artist's language.
"I am not in favour of private possession of creations. I don't care if my work is reproduced on kilometres of cloth. We have to create a multipliable art." Victor Vasarely
In 1954 the construction of the Caracas university campus offered Vasarely his first opportunity to give concrete expression to his ideas on how to integrate art into the city, alongside Jean Arp, Alexander Calder and Fernand Léger.