Light and movement

Peter Sedgley, ‘Yellow Attenuation’ 1965
Peter Sedgley
Yellow Attenuation 1965
Tate
© Peter Sedgley

Since the early twentieth century, artists had been interested in using different means to explore the relationship between vision, light and movement. During the 1950s and 1960s, however, a number of artists became particularly interested in using abstraction to explore the optical and kinetic potential of painting and sculpture, and with introducing new approaches to space and time in their work. These artists were interested in probing the mechanics of vision; they used art to examine the peculiarities of sight and how vision can be manipulated. In many cases they used a precise geometric abstraction to achieve the desired optic or retinal response. This kind of optical or perceptual abstraction came to be known as Op art, while work involving moving parts was called Kinetic art.

In many ways Op art and Kinetic art were interrelated, exploring common territory. Op art played with visual distortions of the flat surface of painting, created illusions of three dimensions or of movement. Op artists also explored similar effects in three dimensions, addressing the perceptual qualities of sculpture. Sometimes the artists consciously blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture or, like Eric Olson, rejected both. Some works relied on the movement of the viewer passing in front of a work to activate it, the movement of the spectator causing a heightening of the optical effect in which the works appeared to vibrate or flicker. In others, the artist introduced an element of actual movement through the addition of moving parts, either mobile or mechanical.

Bridget Riley in Britain and the Hungarian born Victor Vasarely in France became well known during the 1960s as the two leading exponents of Op art. In Latin America, also, optical and kinetic art became particularly prominent, especially in Venezuela. The display reflects this internationalism and presents works by key figures from across Europe and Latin America.