Stepping "Into the Void"

Mar 21, 2013

This student-curated art exhibition Into the Void is going to blow your mind. 

That’s what it’s designed to do.

"Into the Void" at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
Credit Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

Optical art evolved out of the Abstract and Expressionist tradition, and de-emphasized subject matter, focusing instead on what artists could achieve purely through color and form. For the counter-culture of the 60s, Op-art became a symbol of rejection of authoritative or artistic control.

OU Sophomore Lindsey Webster said the exhibit at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, was unlike anything she’d ever seen.

“It's so different from what you’ expect from the era,” Webster said, “and it makes me wonder if they were you know, imagining the future or what was going through their head. It seems to be more complicated and there’s probably a lot that went into it, and a lot of thought, and a lot of emotion.”

Another visitor to the exhibit, OU sophomore Erin Vaughan says the works of art are unusual.

“Well I see lots of pinks and reds, and it looks like a ball might be popping out of it.” Vaughan said. “I really don’t know really don’t know what it is supposed to mean, but I know the bright colors catch the eye. There are lots of squares and the ball that I mentioned is popping out so it is like 3D. So you have all these squares but then you have something circular and round popping out, so it makes it look 3D.”

Allison Campbell,  one of the student curators of Into the Void, explains what OP art is.

“The Op-artists are kind of on this cool tangent that they decide that the colors and lines in a painting can be used in certain combinations, which can almost be aggressive or aggravate." said Campbell. "It creates this effect where there nothing is rooted in space and it’s all pushing towards the front of the picture plane. A good way to describe OP art would be you come into this picture when you come to the museum and you notice that there is no recognizable subject matter and doesn’t tell any type of a story or any type of a narrative and for some reason it seems to all be rushing towards you.”

Campbell describes the one of the exhibition’s artists, Victor Vasarely. 

Victor Vasarely "Titan C"
Credit Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

“Vasarely usually does have something centered in his work which is a characteristic of what he does in his compositions." Campbell said. "His work, I feel, has an idea of weight, whereas when you look at [Bridget] Riley or [Richard] Anuszkiewicz they really feel completely flat and they’re using other devices to make you get this idea of 3D mentality, but Vasarely is kind of old school. He is using curving lines and different in a grid type of pattern because he using this grid and also having colored squares and these curve lines he gives an idea of some sort of energy or a ball bulging from the painting, even though it is completely flat and there is not texture.”

Campbell explains that manipulating the eye is nothing new, but that Op-artists do it to a much more extreme degree. Instead of using optical illusion to recreate reality, Op-art starts from scratch, creating a new reality of shape, line and color.

  “A certain idea that its rooted in [artists like] Cezanne,  just about what our eyes really do when we look at a painting,” Campbell said. “and is a painting really realistic idea of our vision, does a painting reflect that? The Op-artists are breaking that down and down and then all of a sudden their giving this life with these colors and these lines their using them instead of looking towards nature for their inspiration.”

Recognizing OP art seems to a simple task because of the distinctive style of geometric shapes, colors, and reactions. Looking at some of the pieces, sort of causes a strain on the eyes because of the patterns of the shapes along with the color.

“You get this effect that people talk about when they see OP art." explained Campbell. "They always say they feel like a type of energy movement and they can’t escape it and they can’t not see it.  Some people don’t like it; some people think it’s great.”

If you dig "Into the Void", check out this trippy 1965 CBS special on "The Responsive Eye" an early collection of Optical art at MoMA.

“Into the Void” will be on display at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art through July 28th.