Ambiguous Structure No.92 1969 is an abstract painting in acrylic on a square board. It comprises a series of geometrical shapes in blue, light grey-blue, grey, red and orange tones which are combined to produce a three-dimensional effect. The squares align to form a grid, which seemingly projects and recedes from the flat surface. The cooler tones seem to occupy the foreground, while the warmer ones withdraw to the background. The structure appears to originate in the centre and radiate outwards to the four corners, with the canvas apparently broken up into quadrants. Yvaral began to experiment with colour compositions in 1968, after working exclusively in black and white from 1960 (see Kinetic Relief – Optical Acceleration 1963, Tate T00716). Ambiguous Structure No.92 is one of his first optical paintings in colour. It exemplifies the vigorous colours and illusionary movements that characterise Yvaral’s colour paintings and screenprints.
Jean-Pierre Vasarely, known as Yvaral, was born in Paris in 1934, the second son of the artist Victor Vasarely. After studying advertising and graphic design at the École des Arts Appliqués in Paris, he began to experiment with geometric abstraction in 1954. Yvaral’s optical paintings, kinetic reliefs and screenprints explored the illusion of movement and the swelling, warping patterns on this canvas are typical of his approach. Crucially both Yvaral and Vasarely were interested in developing an abstract language, composed of simplified geometric shapes, with the latter even proposing an ‘alphabet plastique’, which mapped relationships between different shapes and colours. Yvaral’s optical experiments, achieved with mathematical grids, connect with contemporary interests in new technologies as well as developments in optical science. However, the title complicates any sense of positivist knowledge, with the adjective ‘ambiguous’, suggesting something open to interpretation, as well as highlighting the contradiction of employing a logical system to create a trompe l’oeil effect.
In 1960 Yvaral co-founded the Groupe de Récherche d’Art Visuel (GRAV) with Julio Le Parc, François Morellet, Francisco Sobrino, Jesus Raphael Soto, Horacio Garcia Rossi and Joel Stein. The group investigated the different ways that works of art could affect the viewer. In GRAV’s communal studio the group produced a series of kinetic sculptures, termed propositions, with moving parts that viewers could activate when they were exhibited in art galleries or on the streets of Paris. These objects made real the illusion of movement, evident in two-dimensional canvases like Ambiguous Structure No.92 and demanded the viewer’s physical interaction, just as his painting provoked movement around the canvas.
Although less well known than his father, Yvaral was an active op artist and participated in a number of group exhibitions, including the seminal op art exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1965.
‘The Responsive Eye’, television programme, CBS, 1965, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSVQqJo0Pmk, accessed 25 September 2013.
Frank Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art, New York 1968.
Magdalena Holzhey, Vasarely, London 2005.