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KINETIC ART : from painting to architectonic work

Victor Vasarely is often perceived as the father of Op’art.

The notion of cinetic art appeared for the first time in 1964. It aspires to explore simple geometric elements and the physics of shape in order to create dynamic optical phenomenon that entice a spectator’s active observations.

The result of artistic research carried out simultaneously by Albers and Vasarely, Op’art was born in 1955. Their initial work on this new artistic movement was furthered by subsequent generations of artists including: Agam, Soto, Cruz Diez, Morellet, Yvaral, Le Parc, Sobrino…

A similar style had already appeared in works by Bauhaus masters: Moholy-Nagy, Klee, Kandinsky and Itten, as well as in creations by Malevitch, Sophie Tauber-Arp and Mondrian.

“Bauhaus” is an experimental didactic and artistic centre which was founded in Weimer in 1919 and that operated until 1933, when the Nazis took power. The adaptation of Art and Architecture to the new-born elements of the Industrial age began at the start of the 20th century. Following (aesthetic) experiments of the "Deutsche Werkbund", initiated by Muthesius in 1907, Walter Gropius establishes a new vision of teaching that is to unify artists and artisans in collective style and research projects. The main focus is the discovery of forms that facilitate the production of series’ of artwork.

Bauhaus, or “the house in which we build” designates not only a particular technique in the history of art itself, but an attempt to blur the borders drawn between various aspects of culture and society.

Its manifesto never seemed as pertinent as it does today :
"This is not about teachers and students, but about masters and apprentices; this is not about artists specialised in general or applied arts, but about creators who complete each other in order to serve a common goal"

This artistic research speaks directly to the heart of a civilisation, which is in constant evolution, as well as to that of some of the greatest Bauhaus teachers : Mies Van Der Rohe, Hilbersheimer, Bayer who become the first creators of glass and steel architecture.

Albers performs new experiments with various materials that he groups by theme. He is a direct inspiration to American Op’art.

Bauhaus is not only an artistic research institute, but an educational facility where economic conditions and the introduction of art into industrial life are both carefully considered. The movement strives to eliminate anything ornamental, decorative and any additional elements in favour of a purely rational construction.

These artistic theories extend to objects used in all levels of daily life, thus classifying the School as the pioneer of industrial aesthetics and design.

This truly democratic School endeavours to foreshadow a future society in which all relationships between people are regulated by reason alone, and not by hierarchy, authority or chance. When Hitler’s regime accused the artistic avant-garde of the 1920’s of ‘degenerative art’, the ensuing persecutions and restrictions would eventually prove unsuccessful. The movement’s influence spread world-wide, particularly in the fields of architecture and applied arts.

However, despite deep resemblances, the rationalism of Op’art differs in several ways from the basic characteristics of the abstract geometric movements that appear between the World Wars.

Op’art strives to break down the barriers between art and technology, as well as to establish relationships between the various branches of science, such as optics and cybernetics. It embodies new uses of form and shape, including industrial aesthetics.

While it lacks a veritable cultural ambition, the movement does attempt to expand future technical possibilities. Furthermore, Op’art introduces new elements to abstract geometry: vibration, information and participation that make it more accessible to the public.

Vasarely remains acutely conscious of a phenomenon, already many years old, which he calls: “The crisis of the easel painting”.

This comment seems to originate in the idea that the so-called ‘easel painting’ - as new or powerful as it may be at its conception - ought not only exist within the narrow confines of the art collector’s galleries that limit its widespread distribution, thus depriving most people today of living in an environment that is both new and attractive.
"Artwork has become an object, and thus detached from a more integral aesthetic. It is exhibited, owned, coveted for itself alone and becomes separate and frozen in the guise of a sort of unique poetic function that ends up serving only a refined elite". Vasarely Exhibition catalogue, Musée des Art Décoratifs, Paris 1963

Vasarely concentrated his efforts on the production of prototypes, i.e. starting points that he would later expand upon and/or multiply :
"The "original", which is to a work of art what seed is to bread, is in reality simply a thing full of potential. An outdated term, the ‘original’ is the current form of a reproduction with possibilities for a renewed usage."
Catalogue Galerie Denise René, Paris 1955

Naturally, Vasarely does not presume to have been the first or the only person to have expressed these ideas which find their origins in various pieces by Matisse, Léger and Picasso who employed various sculpture, ceramic and tapestry techniques.

The ‘ready-made’, the surrealists and the sculptor-painters who worked in the years between the two world wars, further expanded the gap between styles.

Vasarely, who post-dates the above artists, pushes his ideas much further by presenting them with dexterity, conviction and enthusiasm:
"To feel and to do is the old-fashioned way to create art. From today forward, we conceive of art and have it made.".

His aesthetic is reinforced by an ethic: the beauty which was until then purchased by few in the form of works of art, is hereafter available to everyone thanks to ‘multiples’ and to the ‘Cité polychrome’ that become a collective treasure.

Like many of his contemporaries, Vasarely initially went through figurative and tachist periods as well as other movements and styles that he considered ‘false starts’.

It is however this early period which offers glimpses of a whole network of influences and fascinating interactions: the parental links that the painter maintains with the great masters such as Cézanne, Seurat, Léger, Matisse, find on their way in 1929 to Mühely “Bauhaus from Budapest” in addition to the inspiration of Klee and Kandinsky.

For years Vasarely pursued his in-depth research of materials, or medium. At first he did this work alone and subsequently was surrounded by a team. To ensure the originality of his art as he dared try everything imaginable, including tapestry, aluminium, paint on wood, canvas, plastic, steel, sculpture, glass, mosaic tiles, ceramic, and thus intertwining pure form with vibrant colour.

The main goal of the artist's limited production series’ - which are each signed, numbered and are known as ‘multiples’ - is to go beyond the singular production of a unique piece of art.

There is no difference between the original and the “reproduction” as far as the plastic worth is equal.
" If artists are simply poetic nourishment for entirely happy people, who will make the generous effort to create art forms for those who are traditionally underprivileged? "

While the ultimate achievement of the painted works was to be the completion of Vasarely’s ‘Didactic museum’ in Gordes (1970 – 1996), it was in 1976, via the construction of the Architectonic Centre in Aix-en-Provence that Vasarely dedicated his research to the integration of art into the life of cities.

The architecture of the centre is of significance in itself: seven hexagons open into each other, at the centre of which, forty-two walls support a work of monumental dimension.

By extending Bauhaus’ ideas, Vasarely considered that art and architecture become one.

He was concerned by the often disappointing result when the attempt is made to integrate an artists’ work into architecture

From this he induced a doctrine and a new way aiming at a homogeneous enrichment of the milieu in the well meaning of the responsible artist, i.e. the architect.

Vasarely sees himself “plasticien”, not anymore painter; his dream is to integrate the beauty of plastic art into architecture.

Via his Foundation, he wishes to prove that by replacing the forcibly estranged elements of the natural world with similar colourful and pleasing shapes and forms, it is possible to create a more human living environment.

For him, there are barriers that we cannot change:
" The stubbornness of certain people who chose to like only works of art that are produced by hand is contrary to all reason.
Most certainly, Descartes’ writings, Bach’s partitions, are firstly manuscripts, but these works were able to enter millions of minds only thanks to their distribution, either printed in book form, or presented as discs/recordings.
Eisenstein, Fellini, are the creators but not the makers of their films.
While Le Corbusier and Niemeyer never actually placed a single stone with their own hands, the constructions they conceived bear their name. The Masters of the Renaissance signed frescos that were in the large part made by a team of their students."

“Donner à voir” and “bringing art to the street” are Vasarely’s key ideas.

As the incontestable leader of Cinetic art, he has influenced many generations of artists, starting with those of the ‘G.R.A.V. (Group de Recherches d’Art Visuel)’ right up to video and other computer-based artists.
Vasarely’s work is modern because it foreshadows the foundations of contemporary artistic research


Pierre Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence, 30th of March 2004


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