38.5 x 47 x 4 cm
Collection Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Donated by Sammlung Rolf und Friedel Gutmann
Prototype for a limited edition of Rosenthal porcelain (not produced)
The French-Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely (born 1906 in Pécs, Hungary, died 1997 in Paris, France) is regarded as the founder and main representative of Op Art, an art movement within geometric abstraction with a focus on the illusion of movement and space. Unlike the kinetic artists, who worked with actual movement, or several contemporaries who tried to expand their vision through the ingestion of hallucinogens, Op artists strove to stimulate the retina. Using the objectives of modernism as a starting point, and picking up where the traditions of illusionistic painting styles like trompe l’oeil and anamorphosis left off, these artists were fascinated by flickering effects, afterimages, and similar optical phenomena. They also integrated the most recent insights of perceptual psychology into their art, which they practiced as a kind of assault on the stable act of seeing.
Fine patterns and stark black and white contrasts were especially effective for suggesting kinetic and spatial effects. This realization became the most productive moment in Vasarely’s career and occurred roughly two decades after he had moved to Paris in 1930. As a student, he had initially focused on colors and composition during his training at the “Budapest Bauhaus” Mühely, after which he had spent many years as a graphic designer, in addition to trying other careers without success. Coinciding with the major paradigmatic exhibitions “Le Mouvement” at Denise René in Paris (1955) and “The Responsive Eye” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1965), this important realization in his work produced ground-breaking paintings as well as a few sculptural objects, like the glass sculpture “Sorata-T” (1953), of which there are also versions on canvas and fiberboard, as well as the work “Pyramide” (1964). As with his paintings, these sculptural works stimulate the eye through contradictory impulses: light and dark, round and straight, or positive and negative. Vasarely’s presentation of the pseudo-kinetic spatial illusion on the two-dimensional plane and the actual presence of the third dimension as closely related phenomena corresponds with his belief that the anachronistic distinction between painting and sculpture should be replaced by the notion of an art that functions simultaneously in two, three or multiple dimensions. Consequently, these works expand beyond their mere presence in space. Through the artist’s play with perspective and by negating or multiplying the ideal viewpoint, his works encourage beholders to move around and to see the objective aspects in constantly new ways: over time, in the here and now, in memory, and as something subjective and different for everyone.
The large collage “Cassiopée C” and the prototype of a porcelain edition that was never realized (both undated) share much in common with his black and white works. In the collage, the artist draws on a principle from a series of works from 1955–1958 of the same name, in which full and partial circles are arranged along certain lines in such a way that they create tilted squares, and combines this with an orthogonal order similar to the one Vasarely explored in his work “Yvaral” (1956). Realized in the complementary colors red and green, the collage most likely dates from the time after he reintroduced color in his work. It also grants us insight into the range of options and 3-D illusions that became available to the artist from 1960 on, after continuing to develop systematic permutations until ultimately establishing a genuine “alphabet des unites plastiques” consisting of squares, rhombuses, circles, and ellipses. The purely white porcelain relief, on the other hand, is an uncharacteristically reduced, binary variation of the same motif and is the product of a collaboration with Philip Rosenthal in the run-up to the documenta III. This collaborative effort had been initiated by Arnold Bode, with whom Vasarely, who worked with a number of artists between 1964 and 1968, shared a firm belief in the universal appeal of art.