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Op Art

Started: 1964

Op Art Timeline

Important Art and Artists of Op Art

The below artworks are the most important in Op Art - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Op Art. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Structural Constellation (1913)
Artwork Images

Structural Constellation (1913)

Artist: Josef Albers

Artwork description & Analysis: In this optical illusion, Albers experiments with the perception of space by depicting how an arrangement of simple lines can create an ambiguous sense of spatial depth. The black rectangular shapes intersect each other from various angles to disorient the viewer's perception of what is in front and what is behind. Even though the forms are not stylistically rendered, the viewer interprets the image as having unstable dimensions. Albers rejected the label "Op art," and his background in the Bauhaus inclined him to be interested in a very rational investigation of the effects of color, yet he never ruled out the usefulness and interest of tricking the eye.

Machine-engraved vinylite mounted on wood - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Blaze (1964)
Artwork Images

Blaze (1964)

Artist: Bridget Riley

Artwork description & Analysis: The zigzag black and white lines in Blaze create the perception of a circular decent. As the brain interprets the image, the alternating pattern appears to shift back and forth. The interlocking lines add depth to the form as it rhythmically curves around the center of the page. The curator Joe Houston has argued that works such as Blaze "trigger in the viewer an experience equivalent to an atmospheric electric charge; not an illusion, but an "event." Riley herself has said, "My work has developed on the basis of empirical analyses and syntheses, and I have always believed that perception is the medium through which states of being are directly experienced."

Screen print on paper - The Institute of Contemporary Prints

Duo- 2 (1967)
Artwork Images

Duo- 2 (1967)

Artist: Victor Vasarely

Artwork description & Analysis: The contrasting warm and cool shades here create the ambiguous illusion of three-dimensional structures. Are they concave, or convex? The illusion is so effective that we are almost led to forget that it is a painted image, and made to think it is a volumetric construction. Although black and white delivered perhaps the most memorable Op images, color also intrigued many Op artists. The scientific study of color had been central to teaching at the Bauhaus, and Vasarely certainly benefited from his education at what was often called the "Budapest Bauhaus." Bauhaus teachers such as Joseph Albers encouraged students to think not of the associations or symbolism of colors, which had so often been important in art, but simply of the effects they had on the eye.

Gouache and acrylic on board - Private Collection

Physichromie No. 965 (1977)
Artwork Images

Physichromie No. 965 (1977)

Artist: Carlos Cruz-Diez

Artwork description & Analysis: Carlos Cruz-Diez was one of a remarkable generation of South American artists, often resident in Paris, who had an important impact on Op art. He began to focus on the physical properties of color after viewing the work of Jesus Rafael Soto. He created a technique called "additive color" that used evenly spaced colored card strips. Each strip was placed parallel to the next to create the impression of softly modulated tones, which changed according to the position of the viewer. Here Cruz-Diez examined Bauhaus teacher Joannes Itten's theory of the simultaneous perception of different colors through parallel line placement, linear shock, and the fusion of tonalities. The totality of effects creates the illusion of a moving image, exemplifying qualities of Op art and Kinetic art.

Mixed media - OAS Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, D.C.

Four Self-Distorting Grids (1965)
Artwork Images

Four Self-Distorting Grids (1965)

Artist: François Morellet

Artwork description & Analysis: Four Self-Distorting Grids exemplifies the influence of Kinetic art on Op. Movement was crucial to Op art, and while Op artists generally relied on virtual movement - the illusion of movement - some artists used real motion to create effects. In this piece, Morellet experimented with grid forms. He was fond of the way their pre-given character, their common-sense appearance, allowed him to escape traditional approaches to composition in which one part of a design is balanced against another part. This work demonstrates how he also liked to use them, paradoxically, to produce the effects of curves. He would begin by drawing several overlapping lines to create a bowing effect. Here, he puts the idea to work in a motorized sculpture. The four grids shift on an axis to create an abstracted wave of intersecting squares.

Aluminum grids, iron poles, and motors - Fundacion Museo de Arte Moderno Jesus Soto, Ciudad Bolívar

Sphere bleue de Paris (2000)
Artwork Images

Sphere bleue de Paris (2000)

Artist: Jesus Rafael Soto

Artwork description & Analysis: Soto, a Venezuelan who came to France in 1950, was another of the many South American artists who made such an important contribution to Op and Kinetic art. The globe-like form in Sphere bleue de Paris appears to defy gravity, suggesting an energetic power-source, a world or universe. It is created by thin strands of blue rubber tubing, evenly spaced, and moved with a gentle wind or slight touch. The tubing creates a segmented sphere that appears to dissolve into thin air as the viewer circles it. Soto began making such works in the mid-1960s, and although this piece was created many years after the Op art movement went into decline, it demonstrates the endurance of many of the movement's personalities and their ideas. An optical illusion is conjured in order to depict a motif that speaks softly and mystically of the possibilities of science.

Wood and paint construction with aluminum rods, lamps, and rubber tubing



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Related Art and Artists

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86)

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86)

Movement: Post-Impressionism

Artist: Georges Seurat

Artwork description & Analysis: Seurat's Sunday Afternoon is perhaps the most famous example of the painting technique known as Pointillism. Although the picture contains the impressionistic elements of light and shadow and depicts the leisure activities of the Parisian bourgeoisie, it is an early example of the artistic reaction to the Impressionist movement. Seurat composed the entire scene from a series of small, precise dots of color. If viewed closely, the painting becomes nothing more than a quasi-abstract array of colors, similar to a needlepoint. When viewed at an appropriate distance, however, Sunday Afternoon comes into focus. Seurat carefully placed each dot in relation to the ones around it in order to create the desired optical effect. He did so in order to bring structure and rationality to what he perceived were the triviality and disorganization rampant in Impressionism.

Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago

Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave) (1919-20)
Artwork Images

Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave) (1919-20)

Movement: Kinetic Art

Artist: Naum Gabo

Artwork description & Analysis: Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave) was initially created by Naum Gabo to demonstrate kinetic energy to a class. Here a metal strip stand is mechanized to create a motion that produces the illusion of volume. The abstracted form embraces the elements of time and space in a constructed form. It reflects the origins of Kinetic art in some of the radical approaches to sculpture born with Constructivism. What is remarkable about the object is that, when immobile and stationary, it fails entirely as a sculpture, being nothing more than a vertical strip of metal; it is only movement that lends it interest, and that interest is the product of an optical illusion. In that sense, the artistry of Gabo's Kinetic Construction (Standing Wave) is a fleeting thing - nothing more than a mirage that can be gone in an instant.

Metal, painted wood and electrical mechanism

BLAM (1962)
Artwork Images

BLAM (1962)

Movement: Pop Art

Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

Artwork description & Analysis: Lichtenstein took the image used for BLAM from a 1962 edition of the comic book All American Men of War (#89) by Russ Heath. Lichtenstein's painting is not quite an exact replica of Heath's image, but it would be easy to confuse the two upon first glance, as Lichtenstein altered the image only very subtly. One of his many paintings that appropriate subject matter from popular comics, Lichtenstein defined his career by experimenting with the boundaries between high and low art, which raised such questions about the nature of culture and originality without providing any definitive answers. As with the rest of Pop art, it is unclear whether Lichtenstein is applauding the comic book image, and the general cultural sphere to which it belongs, or critiquing it, leaving interpretation up to the viewer. BLAM and similar works were painted using the Ben-Day dot technique, borrowed from comic book printing. Thus, not only is the larger image itself a reproduction, but it was also painted using a repetitive, almost mechanical technique.

Oil on canvas - Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

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