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Op Art Revisited: Selections from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Friday, July 18, 2008–Sunday, January 25, 2009

Olafur Eliasson (Danish, born 1967). Triple ripple, 2004. Three glass/mirror disks, motors, spotlight, and wire, installation dimensions variable. Installation view: Kunsthaus, Dresden 2004. Courtesy the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; and neugerriemschneider, Berlin.

Op art, also know as “Optical art,” refers to the work of a group of abstract painters in the early 1960s who—under the direction of artists Richard Anuszkiewicz, Bridget Riley, Julian Stanczak, and Victor Vasarely—utilized parallel lines, concentric circles, and electric colors to create works that give the visual effect of afterimages and illusion of movement. While the Op art movement soon faded from the art scene due to a lack of critical interest, its eye-dazzling images were recycled for commercial use on fabric and in interior design motifs characteristic of the era, allowing Op art to become the visual iconography of the 1960s. Op Art Revisited: Selections from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery aims to explore the vast influence of Op art that today has seen a resurgence of interest from both contemporary artists and the public alike.

The foundation of Op art can be traced to the German artist, mathematician, and educator Josef Albers who, beginning in the 1930s, was one of the first artists to explore the psychological effects of color and space and consider how they react with one another when processed by the human eye. Albers’s experiments with color came to full fruition in his “Homage to the Square” series, which he began in 1949 and continued to explore for the next twenty-five years. The optical effects Albers explored in this series created the illusion of colors bursting and fading along with geometric planes receding and projecting off the canvas. While Albers’s experiments often had the effect of deceiving the eye, the artist was actually more concerned with challenging the physicality of visual reception and perception.

Op art also led to the development of Kinetic art, a movement that rejected the limitations of the painter’s canvas and applied Op art imagery to explore the effect of movement and light in sculptural works. The result was work that could be set in motion either by an internal device or externally by air or human interaction. The influence of Op art does not stop here, however, as many contemporary artists continue to employ visual characteristics of Op art in their work. The selections of works in this exhibition signify that, instead of being an obsolete moment in art history, Op art has persistently flourished despite its initial limitations.