Indeed, questions about how we see and what tools can help us see better extended across disciplines. In 1960 alone, American scientist Theodore Maiman created the first laser, while Eleanor J. Gibson and R.D. Walk developed the “visual cliff” study, which tested how infants perceive visual depth.
In an exhibition of 26 works, Pih has included eight by Riley. They range from energetic, buzzing screen prints of zigzagging, black-and-white lines (Untitled [Fragment 1/7]
and Untitled [Fragment 3/11]
, both 1965, for instance) to Late Morning
(1967–68), a painting comprised of colorful, vertical lines on canvas. “Her work is immediately recognizable and somehow symptomatic of the technologically-enabled acceleration associated with the 1960s,” said Pih (indeed, Late Morning
recalls the static of a television screen). “Yet her work is also rooted in art history and in early movements such as
Pih also connected Riley to
, who experimented with “mechanized optics” decades before Op art emerged. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s, the French artist made discs printed with concentric circles. When spun on a motorized platform, they created hypnotic, gyrating pictures that fooled the viewer into thinking the images themselves were moving. (Since these works actually spun, we might consider them an example of both Op and Kinetic art.)
Yet Op art is very much a product of the 1960s. The bright, graphic colors and shapes recall the day’s mod fashion styles. And the movement’s concerns with perception interacted with the decade’s mind-altering drugs of choice: LSD and mescaline could literally change the way that people saw and experienced shapes and colors.