Victor Vasarely, “Tower,” ca. 1980-1989

This semester, Assistant Professor of Art History Jennifer Borland’s students explored the collection in their final assignment for ART 2613: Art History Survey II. As a group, students did research and visual analysis of an object of their choice from the OSU Art Collection. This week’s post is based on an in-class presentation by Stefani Billings, Frances Hymes, Robert Johnson, and Austin Mayden.

Victor Vasarely’s sculpture, Tower, is made of Lucite, a transparent plastic material invented in the 1930s. This sculpture, signed and numbered in ink, is one of an edition of 200. It is 21 inches tall.

Victor Vasarely, “Tower,” ca. 1980. Lucite and screenprint, gift of John Mowen.

Vasarely is known as one of the pillars of contemporary art for having led abstract geometric painting to its culmination in a movement known as “kineticism.” The art of creating movement within a form, kineticism often exploited optical illusions that made still images appear to move. Vasarely is considered the father of Op Art, a movement whose name comes from the term “optical illusion.” Vasarely was trained as a graphic artist, and he remained interested consistently throughout his career in geometric forms. Tower was made in the 1980s; Vasarely died in 1997.

Vasarely, “Zebras,” ca. 1950s.

Despite his consistent interest in geometric abstraction, Vasarely’s style did change over the years. His early work experimented with many different styles, and most notably included organic lines and forms rather than the geometry of the later work. Early work such as Zebras also demonstrates his exploration of positive and negative space, compared to the three-dimensional space created by later work.

Vasarely, “Alphabet VB,” 1960.

By the height of his career, Vasarely was experimenting with systems of painting, identifying root forms that were then developed and painted using colors from a series of scales he had created, each with 20 hues. Individual root forms—“unites plastique”— each one with a distinct foreground and background, were placed within a grid. In effect, Vasarely had created an art programming language that allowed for each permutation to become a unique work of art.

Vasarely, “Vega-Nor,” 1969.

Vasarely is also known for his work exploring surface distortion. The Vega Series, including Vega-Nor, in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, is an example of a work that explores spatial relations and the illusion of three dimensions in a two-dimensional image. Another work in the OSU Art Collection, Test Tarka (also a gift of John Mowen), is part of this phase of Vasarely’s work and is on view in the Art Department office.

Vasarely, “Tower,” 360º view.

Tower is unusual in Vasarely’s work because it is three-dimensional. Ironically, Vasarely moved toward sculpture at the end of his career even though he believed that digital art was the future. Tower is made using materials that would have been seen as futuristic in Vasarely’s lifetime: Lucite, screenprinting, and geometric forms. The sculpture transforms as you change your angle: from the top, it is completely clear, and from the side it is very colorful. If you stand at a certain angle, the print is solid; at other angles you can see between the two elements of the tower and realize that only one side has the print on it.

This sculpture was a recent gift to the OSU Art Collection from John Mowen, OSU Regents Professor emeritus. Mowen has been featured on this blog before.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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