Whitehot Magazine

The Resurgence of Op and Kinetic Art

Emilio Cavallini, "Red Linear Fractal" (2001)


Since 2013, the art world has witnessed a deluge of Op and Kinetic art centered exhibitions by major international museums and galleries and the markets took notice: from 2000 to 2010 kinetic art prices at international auctions went up a whopping 128%. We asked Eva Zanardi, a New York based Art Advisor, blogger and Director of Communications at GR gallery on the Lower East Side, which specializes in Kinetic and Op art, to provide some context.

Gregory de la Haba: Why in your opinion are we witnessing an Op Art and Kinetic art resurgence?

Eva Zanardi: Op and Kinetic art can be both contemplative and instinctual, evoking potent reactions which can be as tranquil as raindrops slowly falling and dispersing in a body of water (such as in Italian artist Alberto Biasi’s "Gocce") or as mesmerizing as a lightning strike (such as in British painter Bridget Riley’s "Blaze"). I personally find the fact that these two art movements are introspective and void of any political, religious or social commentary immensely refreshing.

Bridget Riley "Blaze 4" (1964), emulsion on hardboard 42 9/10 in. × 42 9/10 in.

First and foremost, Kinetic art and Op art are not the same: Kinetic art or kineticism (from the greek word "kinesis" meaning motion) is an international movement that refers to art of both real and apparent motion, created between 1920 and 1970. The term “kinetic art” was coined by artist Naum Gabo and his brother Antoine Pevsner in 1920 but popularized by the mobiles of artist Alexander Calder and the kinetic sculptures of George Rickey. Inspired by such iconoclastic movements such as Dada and Constructivism, Kinetic art, or, as some prefer, Dynamic Art, in the '60s spawned a new movement, Op art, mostly interested in optical effects, the illusion of movement and the perception of the visual (among many others Bridget Riley, Getulio Alviani,Victor Vasarely, Julian Stanczak). Many of the Op and Kinetic artists were fascinated by mathematical puzzles, and scientific experiments in phenomena such as the parallax effect, in which objects appear to move in relation to things around them. They combined science and art but, at the same time, explored the philosophical depth and intellectual aspirations of Geometric Abstraction and its spiritual overtones. Works by artists such as Argentine painter Eduardo Mac Entyre and Omar Rayo (Colombia), among others, suggest a higher, meditative purpose.

GdlH: Kinetic and Op art seem more relevant than ever in an age of smart phones and tech-gadget-connectedness, no? Is it here to stay?

EZ: It is impossible not to have noticed that in industrial and graphic design, in fashion, architecture, in décor objects and in a myriad of other places, Op art is back. But in our present troubled era of the 21st century, new implications are surfacing in these works. The world has become less passive and more interactive — phones are now computerized accessories; TV is no longer a passive viewing box but an interactive programming device; WiFi-enabled devices have become inevitable. Information overload; sensory overkill, frenetic movement; kinetic and Op art can be all this, and more: a pre-programmed series of destabilising visual codes with a logical outcome that mirrors the over-complexities of the information age.

Emilio Cavallini, "Grey Bifurcation" (2014), 35.4 in. x 35.4 in.

Op Art fully reflects the flickering, ever-changing, semi-virtual world we inhabit and it has, of course, been influencing the artistic output of the 21st century vanguard of Kinetic and Op art. Developments within the fields of psychology, contemporary philosophy, as well as the technological development of the 20th Century put these issues in the very center of many 21st century artists’ interests. On a more apparent note, it's in the nature of trends and trendsetters to bring back the neglected and outmoded, and Op art makes for an ideal candidate: sufficiently dated, sidelined and even maligned; its use once again seems new, daring and reactionary. In these times of global anxiety and world destabilization, the essence of Op art and Kineticism are more than ever weaved into the fabric of our society, which makes them more approachable easily assimilated. Maybe only today, thanks to greater intellectual and technological advances, the public is ready for the soothing aspect of getting lost in the programmed order of Op and the soothing movement of Kinetic Art. They are here to stay.

Elizabeth Gregory-Gruen, "Gun Metal IN 2," board, metallic pigment, 24 in. x 20.25 in. 

GdlH: How has Op and Kinetic art evolved from the 1950's to now?

EZ: The most evident change I have noticed throughout the decades is how technology has been utilized to create Kinetic and Op artwork that is similar to its early examples, yet much more polished and a little less “naive”. There has been an obvious evolution from the very beginning of Kinetic art with Jean Tinguely’s interactive machine sculptures and Marcel Duchamp’s Rotatifs. They were very early experiments by artists who were fascinated with the possibilities of movement in art and its potential to create new and more interactive relationships with the viewer. The computer age and the innumerable advances in technology brought renewed appreciation for both Op and Kinetic art, which do not have the easy assimilation quality of figurative art and request the viewer to invest a certain amount of time to capture it in its fullness. The work of artists such as Bridget Riley or Alberto Biasi are “difficult” in the sense that they can take months and sometimes years to be completed. They rely on precise study of the behavior of the eye, and to do so Op artists developed abstract compositions to explore a variety of optical phenomena. As Bridget Riley says: “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." The new vanguard of Op and Kinetic artists share a deep appreciation for the trailblazers of these movements because they understand the gargantuan difficulties they must have encountered back then to create such labor intensive artwork without the aid of high tech materials and computer programs. In the past 30 years, artists across all art movements have been addressing the global climate change by utilizing sustainable and recycled materials. Recently, Swiss born artist Ralfonso headlined The Art of Sustainability symposium to showcase how his kinetic sculptures respond to natural environments and how they can be energy-positive by generating electricity. Op and Kinetic art are alive and well, their presence is pervasive in art fairs, museum and art galleries all over the world. I can only imagine what virtual reality will bring to Op and Kinetic art. The future is kinesis!

Emilio Cavallini, "White Star-like Structural Bifurcation" (1990). 

GdlH: What's next at GR gallery?

EZ: In conjucntion with Fashion Week, and opening at the gallery on September 8th, we'll present Harmony Runs On A Thread by renowned artist and designer Emilio Cavallini (San Miniato, 1945) whose work for fashion houses Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, McQueen and Gucci are recognized the world over. In 1989, he was awarded the Leone d'Oro in Venice and his art is exciting, bold, yet easy to comprehend. I'm certain the exhibition will be the talk of the town. 

DdlH: Thank you, Eva Zanardi. We look forward to the show.

EZ: Grazie, Gregorio de la Haba. See you at the gallery. Ciao! WM

To read more about Kinetic and Op art, please visit Eva's blog: www.theresponsivei.com


Whitehot writes about the best art in the world - founded by artist Noah Becker in 2005. 


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