Experience of Illusory Motion

Bridget Riley Hesitate 1964

“In one sense, paradoxically, Riley’s formalist project is a relativizing one; it’s about harnessing the ways that forms and colors affect their neighbors, and exploiting the unpredictability of perceptual experience, for aesthetic ends. That’s as far as it goes, though: The idea that the significance of painting’s form ultimately relies on factors outside the literal frame–that history, relations of production and consumption, social formations of subjectivity, inescapably contaminate “pure” form with ideological content–would, one imagines, earn a big raspberry from Riley. So how might one read her work against the formalist grain? It offers a perceptual experience of illusory motion and fluidity, of iridescent mirages, of phantom colors born of simultaneous contrast and optical mixture, all underpinned by rigidly delineated, insistently repeated, progressively more and more “standardized” units (fabricated by Riley’s studio assistants). Depth in front, flatness behind: a mind-boggling, anti-Idealist sublime-in-reverse. Risking accusations of crude reflectionism, it’s tempting to interpret all this as an unwitting but incisive anatomization of the phantasmagoric mechanisms of ’60s and ’70s commodity design and display. (Riley, incidentally, worked at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in the late ’50s.) That would certainly raise interesting questions about commercial design’s huge attraction to Riley’s work when it first emerged, and its ripeness for appropriation by the likes of Damien Hirst and Philip Taaffe.” [Rachel Withers on Bridget Riley]

Peter Schuyff Untitled 1987

Optical art represents, to some critics at least, a respite from the undisciplined spirit and techniques of abstract expressionism which held sway for the past decade in American art circles. Abstract expressionism with its emphasis on the highly personalized and immediate (sometimes violent) emotional evocations of the artist often misses a rapport with the viewer. The feeling of the intensity of the technique of the abstract expressionist artists (witness the splash and dribble of the action painters), it seems to me, falls short of the visual impact of great masses of rich color which are also present on these usually huge canvasses. Furthermore, the texture of the generously applied paint can produce an interesting optical effect. Expression is also brought out forcibly and with a greater economy of means in many examples of Chinese calligraphy….[Gerald Oster on Optical Art]

Paul Corio Rocks in My Bed 2017

“For the cultural elite’s antagonism toward Op was every bit as intense as the general public’s (and popular press’s) fascination with it. The highbrow dismissal of Op came from artists and critics: Noland spoke of optical “delusions.” Writing in the April 1965 issue of Artforum, Barbara Rose spoke of “optical hysteria” and dismissed the work as “expressively neutral, having to do with sensation alone.” Rosalind Krauss, still evidently operating within the intellectual arena of Greenberg, connects Op to the tradition of trompe l’oeil and denigrates its visual trickery, its “duplicity.” Donald Judd was rather open to Tadasky’s paintings in a February 1965 review–the same month “The Responsive Eye” opened–remarking with characteristic brevity, “It’s fairly good”; but in October of the previous year he had dismissed Stanczak, while simultaneously giving the movement its name: “Optical effects are one thing, a narrow phenomenon, and color effects are another, a wide range. Op art.” But popular usage of the term derived from an unsigned article by Time magazine correspondent Jon Borgzinner, “Op Art: Pictures that Attack the Eye.” It is thus in the context of the mainstream media that the question of Op’s “attack” is first broached.” [David Rimanelli on Op Art]

One Comment

  • Paul Corio

    The nexus of color, light, and atmosphere and it’s ability to conjure up an emotional response is completely non-controversial in landscape painting: Monet, Turner, Cezanne, Claude Lorrain, Sanford Gifford, Corot, and on and on. But take out that horizon line and a lot of people get upset. Op didn’t fit in with the script of Modernism (purity, flatness, etc.) even though it used a lot of the same motifs, so the Greenbergians hated it. Oddly enough, the people who paid the rent by attacking Greenberg didn’t like it either – and I think it had something to do with the fact they couldn’t use the same rhetorical weapons. Best just to write it off as commercial art, which that same crowd did NOT do with Pop. But why? Because Pop presented itself as critique – the magic wand and fig leaf for so much art and its supporting prose, fifty years and going strong.

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