If the current exhibit at El Museo del Barrio isn’t on your must-see list, put it there. At the top. The Illusive Eye is a wonderful exhibit of art designed to fool the eye but also elicit a response from the viewer, who has to both look a bit deeper and step back to see what is really there and what is illusion. The works are from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, with most from the 1960’s when interest in kinetic and Op art was at its peak. In some ways this exhibit is a retort to MOMA’s groundbreaking 1965 show, The Responsive Eye. El Museo’s exhibit offers an alternative view of kinetic and Op art by prominently featuring Latin American artists, – and many women – and by embracing its esoteric roots
in Egyptian and Theosophical mysticism, as opposed to treating Impressionism as optical art’s jumping off point. Even if you don’t particularly like Op art, this show is worth a visit, and may make you reconsider. (Be sure to pick up the brochure for this exhibit at the ticket desk)
The Illusive Eye showcases Latin American artists, especially those from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela, alongside works by their European and US counterparts, including international luminaries such as Joseph Albers and Frank Stella who were also in the MOMA show. For me it was the first time I encountered the work of many of these artists.
The show is divided into several sections, each designed to illustrate a feature of op-art: Generative Paintings, Parallax Apparitions, Optical Sublime, Mandalas and Dervishes, and Kinetic Cascade. All of the works have a three dimensional feel; many are in fact three dimensional, composed of different layers (and sometimes different materials) that are separated from each other, creating the illusion of movement. In some cases, like mobiles, it is the art that also performs the movement.
With all of these works, your perception of what you see changes as you move in front of and alongside a given piece. And they demand that you also consider the spaces in between. Here are some of my favorites:
Convex red-yellow-white by Almir Mavignier (Brazil) is a long, slender strip of raised dots of red, yellow, blue and white paint on a black background – by varying the size and spacing of the dots, Mavignier creates the illusion of undulating vertical movement.
125 Colors by Tony Bechara (Puerto Rico) was painted in 1979, but its hand-painted small squares of primary and secondary colors could be seen as prescient, an analog version of digital pixels.
Louis Tomasello’s (Argentina) Atmosphère chromoplastique no 281 is composed of small angled cubes that stand away from the backing, and are painted white on the top and orange on the underside. Facing different directions, they shift light and shadow, creating the illusion of movement and squares within squares through reflections of colored light.
Right by it is Variations on the Square, by French artist Jean-Pierre Yvaral, who manipulates black and white paint to create the illusion of squares rising from the center of the canvas. Seeing these two together provides a master class in how different materials can be manipulated to create a similar effect.
The interlocking delicate red circles and slow color fade outs of Six Forms in Two Circumferences by Eduardo Mac Entyre (Argentina) conspire to create an upside-down heart whose center radiates white light, drawing you in to contemplate its intensity. Equal in intensity is his Pintura Generative Transparencias; you’ll find yourself drawn in to the infinity symbol created by the delicate lines of the interlocking concentric circles.
Right by it there’s a fabulous painting, M1, by Wojciech Fangor (Poland) of luminous blue and brown concentric circles, whose center is pure white heat.
When you come to Caio Fonesca’s Blue Invention, you won’t be surprised to read on the wall label that it has a musical inspiration, Bach’s short two piece compositions (inventions); the blue and white-ish S shapes imitate and balance each other, while seemingly moving at different speeds.
Ernesto Briel (Cuba) has two lovely intricate pen and ink spiral compositions, Nebulosa and Rupture of the Circle, that move beyond classical op art in the way they seem to pulse and spin.
Be sure to stop at Equilibrio by Miguel Angel Vidal (Argentina); the delicate white net-like “bow tie” that overlays the four pair of overlapping blue triangles makes the painting seem to move in a dizzying fashion
Antonio Asis, “8 White Circles, 8 Black Circles” consists of a metal grill of large punched holes placed a few inches in front of 8 squares with either black or white small circles; the size and place of the resulting image are a function of where you’re standing.
The Nine Mobile Circles by Ivan Contreras Brunet (Chile) seem to change color as they move, and sometimes not all nine are visible, depending on your vantage point.
Mario Carreño (Chile) is represented by two pieces, both Untitled, which are formal abstract compositions deftly employing a limited palate of greens and rusts.
Towards the end of the exhibit, in a darkened semi-enclosed space, you’ll find the show-stopper: Spazio Ad Attivazione Cinetica 6B, by Marina Appolonio (Italy). Covering the floor, this spiral of lines of varying widths and distances creates the feeling of a surface that moves and has three dimensions; walk slowly around it, as it really can make you dizzy!
Overall, this show will make you appreciate anew (or at least reconsider) optical and kinetic art by providing a deeper and different point of reference. The Illusive Eye runs through May 21st.
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