Gabriele Evertz

Op: Then and Now, Exhibition Statement

By Joe Houston
Columbus Museum of Art, July 6 - September 30, 2007

A vital form of abstraction emerged internationally in the 1960s. Nicknamed Op Art, this Progressive “optical” art emphasized the process of vision in exciting, sometimes disorienting, ways. Unlike Pop Art, which preceded it, Op dispensed with recognizable imagery and social commentary, allowing the viewing experience itself to become its primary subject. Characterized by dynamic patterns, saturated colors, and perplexing spatial perspective, Op Art encourages us to see with new eyes.

The Op emphasis on perception dates back to the French Impressionists, who sought not to mimic nature, but to convey their vivid experience of it. For instance, George Seurat, desiring to create what he termed a “purely optical formula for painting,” pioneered the Pointillist technique in which dots of pure color form new mixtures in the eye and mind of the viewer. An increasing fascination with optical science and perceptual psychology led to further innovations in non-objective art in the early twentieth century, culminating in the Op Art movement.

In the 1960s, Op became an aesthetic and cultural phenomenon the world over, boosted by popular traveling exhibitions such as the Museum of Modern Art’s The Responsive Eye. The participatory nature of this new painting and sculpture transcended nationality and education, making it a universal and democratic art form. Among the Op innovators who garnered early acclaim were the French-Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely, Japanese-American painter Tadasky, and the Polish-born Ohio artist Julian Stanczak.

Although now a part of modern art history, Op Art’s emphasis on the viewer’s experience remains just as relevant today. Many of its pioneers have continued to explore perceptual boundaries into the twenty-first century, influencing a new generation of artists such as Linda Besemer, Gabriele Evertz, and Peter Halley. Following the Museum’s recent exhibition Optic Nerve: Perceptual Artof the 1960s, this gallery features visually stimulating abstractions created throughout the past five decades. Seen together in Op Art Then and Now, these works affirm that the formal and conceptual innovations of the 1960s still provide vibrant tools for artists to manipulate to new ends.