Students in Prof. Siddons’ “Art Since 1960” class had the chance this spring to write about a work of art from the OSUMA collection, featured in the exhibition, “Sharing a Journey.” The assignment entailed looking at a work of art for at least 45 minutes, and to write about their close-looking experience, followed by interpretation. Sarah Smith wrote about Victor Vasarely’s Test Tarka from 1990. The following text was excerpted from her paper by graduate teaching assistant Michelle Rinard.
In 1990, artist Victor Vasarely created Test Tarka, an unassuming screen print of a multicolored grid set within a hexagon. The hexagon is divided up into three equal spaces, each space containing warped grid lines that create the illusion of sections of spheres underlying the grid. Each section is a different color; the top right third is purple, the top left third is green and the bottom third is red. The spaces between the grid lines creating the spheres are black, while the spaces in between the other grid lines remain white or gray. The black coloring helps to maintain the illusion of spheres coming up from underneath the grid, making the spheres appear to be in the foreground, whereas the white and grey colored spaces disappear into the background. At the center of the hexagon is a rhombus—the meeting point of the three major grid lines of the piece.
If you were to block out the spheres, you would get the illusion that you were looking at the inner corner of a room, and that the center meeting point is simply where the floor meets the two walls on either side, creating the vertex where their corners meet. Now imagine that two giant beach balls are on the outside of the walls pressing them in towards you, and that one is also pressing up on the floor, and imagine the claustrophobia you’re beginning to feel as they get closer and closer to touching each other, and the only flat ground left is where the baseboards meet the walls and the corner where the two walls meet each other. That is the visual distress within this composition, the contrast of straight lines versus arcing lines, of small light areas versus large dark areas, and the manipulation of space throughout.
At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be anything unique. When you begin to look at it more closely, however, you begin to see the push and pull it contains within itself, within the contrast of shape, line, and space. There is a battle waging within this composition that is sublimely achieved via manipulation of the classical grid. The grid has been turned on its head and pitted against itself so as to cannibalize itself within its own confines. The viewer doesn’t know whether to be intrigued or confused by the optical illusions being created by the simplistic manipulation of the grid.
Vasarely seems to be using Test Tarka as a continuation of the artistic conversation about the idea of the grid and the power it continues to hold over postmodern art, with a twist. Vasarely is rehashing and putting a new spin on an old idea, that the grid is a permanent, biomorphic necessity, and that although it is generally linear and symmetrical, it has the capacity to change and evolve along with the modern notions and concepts of art.