Catalogue entry

Victor Vasarely born 1908 [- 1997]

T00676 Supernovae 1959-61

Inscribed 'VASARELY | "SUPERNOVÆ" | 152 x 242 | 1959-61' on back of canvas
Oil on canvas, 95 1/4 x 60 (242 x 152)
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1964
Exh: Vasarely, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, March-April 1963 (among the works in section 1: 'Tableaux-départ'); Vasarely, Galerie Denise René, Paris, November-December 1963 (works not numbered, repr. upside down); Painting and Sculpture of a Decade 1954-64, Tate Gallery, April-June 1964 (139, repr.)
Lit: Werner Spies, Victor Vasarely (New York 1971), pp.74-114
Repr: Metro, Nos.4-5, 1962, p.116; Marcel Joray, Vasarely (Neuchâtel 1969), pl.160

The black and white paintings which Vasarely made in the 1950s, from 1954 onwards, grew mainly out of his experiments with a form of kinetic art known as 'Kinetic Pictures in Depth' based on the superimposition of two screens with interacting patterns so as to produce a fluctuating image through the movement of the viewer, causing perception to shift back and forth. Believing that the possibilities of two dimensions were far from exhausted and that a visual assault on the retina producing an illusion of vibration was itself a branch of kinetics, he chose to paint in black and white because of their maximum contrast. Moreover a composition in white and black could be transposed into black and white on a negative-positive basis to produce a further composition of equal interest.

Vasarely wrote (6 October 1965) that he regards the theme 'Supernovae', like all his kinetic compositions, as a project for a monumental work to be integrated with architecture, though it had not so far been carried out on a large scale. It has given rise to three further compositions, 'Metagalaxie' 1959-61, 'Novae' 1959-65 and 'Centauri' 1959-65, and he had in mind some day to make a variant with the blacks and whites reversed. 'Supernovae' was reproduced in this way, in the negative, as a photographic version of this idea, on the cover of Art International, May 1965.

Supernovae are stars which suddenly increase greatly in luminosity, then undergo various changes which apparently include casting off a considerable proportion of their mass.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.745, reproduced p.745