Victor Vasarely, ‘Untitled, ’, De Jonckheere

The authenticity of this work was confirmed by Pierre Vasarely, the artist’s only grandson and sole legatee of his work. Untitled will also feature in the painter’s soon-to-be published catalogue raisonné, in preparation by the Fondation Vasarely. According to the date mentioned on the back of this small relief panel, it was produced right in the middle of the Black-White period, which began circa 1955 and ended in the 1960s. The painter pursued his formal, plastic and conceptual explorations initiated during his training at Mühely in Budapest. He became evermore demanding in his work, leading him to abandon classic figurative paintings and eliminate the motif. To quote Vasarely, he said that “the Black-White period and kinetics are characterized by the complete rejection of everything that could be an allusion to nature or inspired by it, in favour of a completely abstract art that plays on the ambiguity of two-dimensional shapes". Resorting to a variety of materials such as canvas, glass, Plexiglas, metal and wood, he concentrated on the vibrations emanating from the arrangement of shapes and lines to stimulate the viewer’s eye. Colour was replaced by the radical use of black and white, the product of pure abstraction. The contrasts between the two elementary colours had already been explored in his early graphic works, but here they took on a new dimension. Work based on photography and negatives of small pen and ink drawings resulted in the increasingly frequent use of simple geometric forms: square, diamond, disc, oval which, once joined together, compose ‘plastic units’, according to the terms used by the artist. His binary opposites are legion: black/white, concave/convex, content/form, empty/full, positive/negative. Furthermore, Vasarely initiated a precise and impersonal technique that he maintained until the end of his career. He abandons the material effects of the pictorial layer in favour of a neutral, smooth technique and a matt surface. The graphic motif of the target has been used on many occasions by Op Art artists, and we can appreciate its significance here with these superimposed oval discs. Whether the circles are arranged according to a central point (fig. 1) or off centre (fig. 2), our vision is very actively and dynamically engaged, in an almost hypnotic manner.

These concentric circles playing on the opposition of white and black furtively evoke the work commissioned by the company Christofle (fig. 3). In 1950, the famous French manufacturer brought out a plate decorated by the artist called ‘Les Cercles’, signed on the back. It was part of a collection decorated by famous artists such as Man Ray, Gio Ponti, Eluard, Cocteau and Gilot. The collection was re-issued in 2010. In another register, our work is a contemporary of Ondho (fig. 4), displayed at the MoMA in New York. In this large oil painting on canvas, circles, ovals and squares cohabit as filled shapes and skilfully curved or irregular lines. Composed of volumes and relief, our eye is invited to decipher the whole. Finally, the terracing of the discs to construct a new and graphic form in our painting, shows references to the field of architecture, an area into which Vasarely made many fruitful incursions. He excelled in the architectural integration of decorative modules still faithful to kinetics and Op Art, such as the university campus in Caracas in 1954, the RTL studios in Paris in 1970 (fig. 5) or other commissions for public buildings, such as Montparnasse railway station.

The work is dedicated on the back to a certain ‘Laszlo’. This is very probably Carl Laszlo, who was born in Pécs in 1923 and died in Basle in 2013. An art dealer, collector and writer, he was the editor-in-chief of Panderma, ‘the review of the end of the world, according to the subtitle. Issue 6 of 1964 was devoted to Victor Vasarely. Note that the Swiss publisher Le Cadre published a limited edition two-volume work in 1972, entitled Hommage à Carl Laszlo. The second volume was decorated with a screen print by the master of Optical Art.

After having gained worldwide renown and public recognition, Victor Vasarely sank into oblivion during the last few decades of his life. Seen too often, reproduced too regularly, used to excess, his work lost its value and no longer aroused the interest it originally raised. However, his work has been rediscovered, studied and is once again highly appreciated. The determination and implication he put into his works transpires through each and every one of them. The modernity of his visual and kinetic experimentations is more topical than ever, at a time when the digital image is king. The work we are presenting perfectly illustrates the development of this visionary artist's conceptual outlook, which conveyed his exciting forays into matter and pigments.

Signature: Signed, titled, dated "1958-60", numbered "0" and dedicated to "Laszlo"

About Victor Vasarely

Considered one of the progenitors of Op Art for his optically complex and illusionistic paintings, Victor Vasarely spent the course of a long, critically acclaimed career seeking, and arguing for, an approach to art making that was deeply social. He placed primary importance on the development of an engaging, accessible visual language that could be universally understood—this language, for Vasarely, was geometric abstraction, more commonly known as Op Art. Through precise combinations of lines, geometric shapes, colors, and shading, he created eye-popping paintings, full of the illusion of depth, movement, and three-dimensionality. More than pleasing tricks for the eye, Vasarely insisted, “pure form and pure color can signify the world.”

Hungarian-French, 1906-1997, Pécs, Hungary, based in Paris, France