“Op art is made tantalizing, eye-teasing, even eye-smarting by visual researchers using all the ingredients of an optometrist’s nightmare,” TIME magazine wrote in 1964 of the new contemporary movement—using research in color theory and perception to create optical illusions—that would soon leave the art world spellbound. A year later, the pinnacle of Op Art arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where “The Responsive Eye” exhibition drew crowds to first experience the psychophysiological effects of light. Visitors left hypnotized and delighted, save for the art critics, whose brows were strongly raised in caution. “They’re actually the things that I detest; all those things that make my eyes blink,” artist David Hockney said after viewing the exhibition, and his was not the only tough love the show received. “A roller coaster ride,” one critic wrote; another advised motion sickness pills be taken before attendance.
Despite criticism, Op Art has persevered—and the visceral, disorienting fun house-like pleasures have now filled the galleries of the Grand Palais (3,700 square meters, to be exact) in an exhibition titled “DYNAMO” that surveys light, space, and vision by way of nearly 150 20th-century artists. Even before entering the historic museum—positioned at the bottom of the equally prestigious Parisian avenue Champs-Élysées—viewers are met with Fujiko Nakaya’s smoking fountain on the lawn fueled by dry ice, and once inside, a concave mirror by Anish Kapoor greets with a distorted upside-down reflection. Still to come are electric motors by Marcel Duchamp, a kaleidoscopic installation of mirrors by Yayoi Kusama, Carsten Höller’s rapid-firing and flickering corner of light, James Turrell’s deep, dark, cherry-red corridor, and the remaining neons, strobes, fluorescents—pulsating and flickering—still to be explored.
At right, view artists included in the “DYNAMO” exhibition, on view at the Grand Palais, Paris, through July 22, 2013.
Jesus Rafael Soto, Pénétrable BBL bleu, 1999, Paris, Collection Avila / Atelier Soto © Archives Soto / Adagp, Paris, 2013.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory