VICTOR VASARELY RETROSPECTIVE
Palais Bénédictive - France 2001
...Vasarely acquires a singular place in the history of art as he erases the boundaries between two apparently opposite worlds, art and computer science. Following a rigorous and unrelenting path of experimentation, he arrives at the standardization of the means of creation within a small number of regular forms and color codes, a plastic alphabet, an aesthetic system of multiple combinations duly numbered and classified.
The codification of these elements allows for the creation of a bank of plastic possibilities that can be stored in electronic memory. Vasarely conceives the principle of an interactive program capable of recalling millions of colored combinations that can be readily exploited as an inextinguishable source of compositions and as a reliable statistics test of aesthetic preferences. “If yesterday’s art strived for feeling and doing, today it could strive for conceiving and doing the doing.”
Thus, a simple “artist-painter” becomes a “plastician” and a “conceptualizer.”
Persuaded by man’s profound aesthetic and plastic aspiration, Vasarely would never cease to promote a social art readily available to everyone. His determination for defending a generous conception of art, one that would not be any more reserved for, or limited to, a hyper-cultured elite, translates itself into his persevering efforts to integrate plastic beauty in architecture, “La cité polychrome”, “The polychrome city”, and to diffuse numerous editions of multiples. The units of his plastic alphabet are constants, and therefore apt to be reproduced by industrial means in any material.
Conscious of his role as a “plastician” in the modern city, he opts for a strict life in his atelier, disconnected from the world of money, politics, and everyday business, dedicated to his self imposed mission of “giving to see”, “donner à voir”.
“The crowds, the masses, a multitude of beings, this is the new dimension. See the unlimited space, the truth of structures. Art is the plastic aspect of the community. Art must be a common treasure of not be art at all.”
After his bachelor’s degree, Vasarely enrolls in the University of Budapest’s School of Medicine, which he is forced to abandon a couple of years later in the context of the deep economic and social crisis afflicting Hungary at the time. From these two years and a half in contact with the world of science, he will forever keep a strong will for objectivity and the scientific method, developing even further his taste for exactitude and systematic series.
He devours popular scientific books on astrophysics, relativity, quantum mechanics, cybernetics, etc. cultivating his passion for the theories of Neils Bohr, Heisenberg, Einstein, Dirac, De Broglie, Wiener... “Pure physics is revealed as the new poetic source.”
He realizes that scientific knowledge, having arrived at the limits of the explainable, cannot be assimilated by everyone, and that art, as a real educational medium, could offer plastic equivalents that, short of making the scientific models comprehensible, could render them approachable through feeling and intuition.
“The two creative expressions of man, art and science, meet again to form an imaginary construct that is in accord with our sensibility and contemporary knowledge.”
In 1928, Alexandre Bortnyik, former student of the Weimar Bauhaus School, opens in Budapest the Mühely, a school dedicated to the dissemination of the teachings of Walter Gropius, Johaness Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Laszlo Moholy Nagy and Josef Albers. Soon enough, Vasarely enrolls at the Mühely and as an apprentice of the different new graphic techniques, he discovers abstract art, Malevitch and the Russian Avant-garde, and initiates himself in the tendencies of constructivism and adheres to the theories of a social art available to everyone, adapted to the evolution of the new industrial world.
Later on he discovers Le Corbusier, Mondrian, Sophie Tauever, Auguste Herbin and Alberto Magnelli.
The pictorial evolution of Vasarely is the result of a slow and steady accumulation of experiences. He begins to paint quite late, at the age of 37. Influenced by the pictorial movements at the time in Paris, he quickly adopts a symbolist and surrealist painting style, later venturing into expressionism, and then into semi-figurations and complete abstraction, displaying in all styles a subtlety and sophistication that equals or even surpasses the achievements of the foremost artists of the moment.
He will later baptize his first endeavors as his “false routes”. The exhibit of his surrealist works at the Denise René Gallery, prefaced by Jacques Prévert in the form of “imaginary” poems, grabs the attention of André Breton.
Just by relying on his prodigious drawing abilities, Vasarely could well had been an excellent figurative or surrealist painter, yet this was not sufficient to satisfy his ambitious aesthetic aspirations. Through a process of true artistic self-mutilation, he abandons figuration, rejects all shortcuts offered by his technical mastery, and distances himself from the establishment.
The landscapes he discovers while on vacation in Bretagne, at Belle-Ile-en-Mer, and later in Provence, at Gordes, paradoxically induce him into the path of geometric abstraction, renovating the genre by giving it new forms and directions.
By way of his research in black-and-white format, he defines an original conception of movement, discarding any form of motor and luminous animation, relying above all on the elaboration of a flat composition leaving the effect of movement solely within the perception of the spectator. Through unrelenting experimentations, he leads geometric abstraction into becoming a true abstract art, free of any contingency other than plastic expression.
In his “l’Unité Plastique” exhibit, at the Pavillon de Marsan at the Louvre, Vasarely unfurls, in a tour de force demonstration of the possibilities of the integration of color in architecture, a vast inventory of new plastic mediums and materials available, in a grand display of flamboyantly, dynamically, convincingly and strictly organized colors.
Vasarely is hailed as the inventor and father of optical art. His work is the recipient of the top prizes and honors of the great international competitions he takes part in. Documented studies of his oeuvre multiply around the world.
Many young artists from all over Europe and South America come to Paris to meet the Master at his atelier. His “Folklore Planétaire”, “Planetary Folklore”, acquires a large audience amongst numerous youngsters who adopt this or that aspect of his permutational art form.
In his desire to transcend the stage of the “painting-object” through the means of the integration of color in architecture, Vasarely speculates on the conquest of greater dimensions that will generate different projection technologies: a new plastic-kinetic adventure would unfold with the incorporation of color and light, where beams of intense and contrasting hues cross each other merging in a colored space, the future of technological hardware would allow the creation of true plastic symphonies.
Vasarely deduced from his oeuvre open-ended methods and modular hardware for deploying permutational art in a context of inexhaustible virtual possibilities.
As soon as he had developed his Alphabet Plastique and his Folklore Planetaire, he forced upon himself not to strictly apply the principles he had just deduced, allowing instead his creative imagination to flow freely and unencumbered, always exploring new structures.
Vasarely’s method was not to permit himself to be held hostage by the fixed structure of any given method, theory does not precede creation, one must always give oneself into continuous experimentation without any priori notion.
Discovery rests itself upon reason, but it always rewards the sensible eye that decides if reason is right.
Vasarely achieved a superb synthesis of a numerical and permutational art, while deducing the possibilities for domesticating the computer for art’s sake. In a time where the science of numbers and binary languages engulf our lives, his work is more relevant than ever.
Vasarely has left a vast legacy of not only an important diversified and polymorphous body of work, but also that of a deepening of the principles developed by the Bauhaus School and the abstract artists of the first half of the century.
His creative prowess’ has opened a limitless field of possibilities for exploration and discovery.