Purists come in many shapes and sizes; there are those who revere Renaissance masters as true artists, those who can’t get their head around Contemporary art, and those for whom experimentation and invention is the key to greatness. I’ve come across a lot of people in the Art World who don’t consider Op Art an important moment in art history, and it’s something I struggle to understand.
For me, Op Art is accessible, engaging, appealing and more-ish on so many levels. Take for instance Jesus Raphael Soto’s Twelve Blacks and Four Silvers (1965), currently on display at Tate Liverpool as part of Op Art: In Focus. It’s impossible not to stoop, peer around and interact with the piece, which seems to move and twist as you view it from different angles, testing your perception as you question the abilities of this static object.
Optical, or Op art emerged in the 1960s, and was made famous by artists such as Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely. Combining lines, geometric shapes and bright colour to create artworks that fool the eye, works often have a disorientating quality, giving the viewer the illusion of movement.
What’s great about the show is its inclusion of more contemporary artists. A rare installation of Jim Lambie’s Zobop (1999), which you’ve undoubtedly seen on every Instagram feed since the exhibition’s opening last year, transforms the gallery floor into a trippy masterpiece, using lines of coloured tape to create an unavoidably maze-like installation.Elsewhere, Anwar Jalal Shemza’s Meem Two (1967), chosen from his Meem series, reconfigures the Arabic letter (the first initial of the prophet Mohammed) into a beautiful example of symmetry, using uncharacteristically toned down colours to create this aesthetic calligraphy.
Lastly, Gunther Uecker’s White Field (1964) a relief using everyday carpentry nails as his medium, casts shadows across the canvas, dependent on the light in the room, but also based on where the viewer stands. Another example of how wonderfully interactive Op Art can be, Uecker’s piece is at once attractive and not, pure white with a suggestion of darkness, somewhat morbid and yet appealing.
The exhibition is a testament to an iconic art movement, and an undoubtable coup for the Tate family.
Op Art In Focus is a part of Tate Liverpool’s in Focus series – displays of the Tate collection dedicated to significant modern and contemporary artists or movements and is on display until July 2020.
Sinéad Nunes is a writer and arts advocate based in Liverpool. She a Regional Editor for Corridor8.