Spirals of Colours: Victor Vasarely’s Optical Art

Victor Vasarely’s Op Art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery is a feast for the eyes

Jaymie Marie // Contributor

Optical illusions are one of the first art forms we see as children, usually in books like Magic Eye. There’s a sense of wonder that comes from suddenly finding a picture where there was once only colours.  Victor Vasarely’s abstract works in the field of Optical Art (Op Art) provoke the same awe-inspiring reaction with their mesmerizing patterns and bright contrasting colours. From Oct. 17, 2020 to Apr. 5, 2021, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is housing a large collection of Vasarely’s pieces encompassing his later works in the 1960s and 70s.

Bruce Grenville, a senior curator at the VAG, emphasizes how you don’t have to have an art background to engage with Vasarely’s art. “When kids come in, they come to look at Vasarely in ways that are a kind of a sophisticated way of looking, which is to marvel at how this thing can be constructed,” he reflected. The exhibition creates a game element that lets the viewer “play” with the world of Vasarely’s art and “create [their] own art based in [his] language.” 

Vasarely was a Hungarian-French artist with a background in graphic design, who was born in 1908 and came into the public eye in the 1950s. Europe through 1950 to 1970 was undergoing  enormous social change.  “There is a tremendous amount of things that happened in that time,” said Bruce Grenville, who is a senior curator at the VAG. “This is an artist who came forward with what was in many ways a sort of radical vision, but was also very human,” Grenville explained.

OERVING, 1968, tempera on wood composite board. Courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Vasarely’s experiences and desire to make art accessible  relate and connect with some of the feelings our society is currently experiencing in this global pandemic. Grenville mentions how, “[Right now] we are given the opportunity to recognize the way that art can bring people together, where they can share their experience.” He elaborates that this idea is at the root of Vasarely’s art and how this “emerged out of [Vasarely’s] experience during [the Second World War], creating an understanding of the fragility of the culture that we live in.” 

Vasarely was known for having a utopian vision for the Op Art movement, and for wanting to make his pieces as accessible as possible, though this idea of universality does not come without critiques. Grenville stated that we should approach the idea of universality with caution because, despite the fact that Vasarely’s work can be enjoyed and consumed internationally, those with “different cultural histories, different experiences, will approach [Vasarely’s art] differently.” 

Tickets for Victor Vasarely can be purchased on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s website. The gallery is currently allowing visitors to book a time in advance and wear a mask while visiting. The Capilano Courier recommends proceeding with caution due to the worsening COVID-19  pandemic and the recent B.C. Public Health Order. 

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