Eye-popping Op-Art exhibit opens at The Matt

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
To the casual art observer, Victor Vasarely is not as much of a household name as Picasso, Monet, or Warhol.
But Cynthia Roznoy, curator at the Mattatuck Museum, explained that in his native Hungary and adopted home of Paris, Vasarely’s work is held in high-esteem.
And as the father of Op-Art, Roznoy explained, Vasarely is an artist worth getting to know.
And area art fans will have a chance to get to know Vasarely in the Mattatuck Museum’s upcoming exhibit “Victor Vasarely: The Absolute Eye,” which opens on Feb. 18.
The museum touts Vasarely as the father of Op-Art, but what exactly is Op-Art?
Roznoy explained Op-Art is “all about illusion.” She said it’s about giving the two dimensional a sense of depth.
Although what he was doing with illusion was notnew, Roznoy said Vasarely was building upon what other art movements had done before. The artists of the Renaissnace played with the illusion of perspective and light and space through the use of color. Impressionists also played with light through their brush strokes
Roznoy was not certain but she believed Vasarely’s earliest avocation may have led him to the creation of optical illusions. Born in Hungary in 1906, he originally entered medical school and began training to become a doctor. In all likelihood, said Roznoy, the artist probably studied anatomy and learned how the eye generated images in the brain, which helped him understand how to make optical illusions.
After two years, Vasarely left medical school, said Roznoy. From there, he began to study graphic art at Mulhely, which sprung forth in Eastern Europe from the Bauhaus movement in Germany. Eventually, Roznoy explained Vasarely traveled to Paris, where he worked as a graphic artist, creating advertisements. In the evening, he indulged in his own muse with his own art.
Like many artists, Roznoy said Vasarely’s work was about his desire “to create something new.” His abstract illusions were a reflection of his interest in a “new age, a modern age” following World War II. He was interested in a world where technology was on the move.
The Mattatuck Museum exhibit picks up Vasarely’s story at this moment in the 1940s as a graphic artist transformed into a fine artist with his own sense of style—using geometry and color to create optical illusions, said Roznoy.
There are 64 works in the exhibit, which extends the whole of his career from the 1940s to the 1980s. (He passed away in 1997 at the age of 91.) There is also a video that provides guests with a biography of the man.
Serendipity, said Roznoy, led to the Mattatuck securing this exhibit of the prototypical Op-Artist.
The collection coming to Waterbury was lent to the museum by the Herakleidon Museum of Art in Athens, Greece, said Roznoy. The Greek museum houses the works of Vasarely that were collected by Connecticut residents Paul and Belinda Firos. The couple regularly allow their pieces to be used in traveling exhibits such as the one coming to Waterbury.
At one such traveling exhibit hosted by the New Britain Museum of American Arts (featuring the work of Toulouse-Lautrec), Roznoy said the Mattatuck’s director, Bob Burns, met with Paul and Belinda Firos. During this face-to-face, discussions developed into an arrangement to bring the Vasarley show to Waterbury. (This is the first time a selection from the Athens museum’s extensive Vasarely collection will be on view in the U.S.)
The Mattatuck wanted to feature the work of Vasarley because of his standing as the father of Op-Art, which had a great deal of influence on the artists that followed, said Roznoy. Although he may not be as well known in the United States, Roznoy said in Paris and Hungary, Vasarely is highly regarded. And for artists, Vasarley also looms large in terms of his influence on their work.  Additionally, Roznoy said that although Vasarley’s name may not have been as well known in the U.S.,Op-Art had a big presence in the 1970s, especially in the advertising and fashion of the decade.
For the museum, Roznoy said the exhibit was important for the Waterbury art institution because it helps tell the story of 20th century art and modern art. Also, Vasarely’s work is a different kind of art that helps the museum reach a broader audience.
For casual connoisseurs of art, Roznoy said the collection will hold appeal because you can stand up close or far away to indulge a sense of appreciation. The pieces encourage the viewer to interact with them. Additionally, she said, the video and other documentation in the exhibit will give the visitor a better grasp of the man as well as the art.
On Thursday evening, Feb. 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Mattatuck Museum, 144 West Main St., Waterbury will host the opening of “Victor Vasarely: The Absolute Eye.”
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
For more information, go to mattatuckmuseum.org or call (203) 753-0381.

This piece from Victor Vasarely is called “Vertche II,” from 1978. The piece is from the collection of Herakleidon Museum, Athens, Greece.

This piece from Victor Vasarely is called “Vertche II,” from 1978. The piece is from the collection of Herakleidon Museum, Athens, Greece.