Op Art in Focus
Tate Liverpool, United Kingdom
July 21, 2018 – January, 17 2021
Tate Liverpool presents Op Art in Focus, a dazzling free display that celebrates the development of optical art. Featuring work by artists including Bridget Riley (b. 1931), and Victor Vasarely (1908-1997), the display also explores the movement’s legacy and influence on contemporary art, as demonstrated in the work of artists such as Damien Hirst (b. 1965) and Angela Bulloch (b. 1966).
Op art is a major development in art that emerged in the 1960s. Characterised by its use of bold contrasting colour, lines and geometric shapes, leading figures of the movement, including Riley and Jesus Rafael Soto (1923–2005), made work to dazzle the eye. Drawing on colour theory, they experimented with perception to create effects ranging from the subtle, to the disturbing and disorientating.
The group show features 18 artists and 26 works including sculpture, installation and large-scale paintings, all from the Tate’s collection of art. Highlights of the display include Julio Le Parc (b. 1928), who introduced moving elements into his works, including 1963’s Continual Mobile, Continual Light. Le Parc saw the viewer as an active participant and experimented with their perception of art. Walter Leblanc (1932–1986) and Heinz Mack (b. 1931) similarly created works that opened up new forms of perception, responding to the technologically-driven optimism of the space age. In the previous decade, Josef Albers’s (1888–1976) Homage to the Square 1951 experimented with how subtle variations of colour could create an unclear sense of spatial depth. Such interactions of colour and composition can also be seen in Frank Stella’s (b. 1936) Hyena Stomp 1962.
Presenting an expanded, more international account of op art, the display also explores how it continues to influence artists today. Like Stella, Jim Lambie’s (b. 1964) dazzling floor-based installation Zobop 1999 invokes rhythms and energy in art akin to those found in popular music. Colour, shapes and systems, as well as our relationship and responses to them, remain essential considerations for many contemporary artists. Damien Hirst’s 1994 work Anthraquinone-1-Diazonium Chloride presents a structured and seemingly infinite arrangement of coloured dots, echoing the op art style. Angela Bulloch’s Aluminium 4 2012 meanwhile combines colour elements in four ‘pixel boxes’, programmed to randomly change colour, meaning that the work – and the viewer’s reading of it – changes over time.