What was Op Art

Op becomes pop

Strict architectural forms determine the picture, divided by light and shadow. Positioned in front of it: the model Brigitte Bauer, dressed in an Op Art swimsuit. The background and foreground complement each other, becoming a common dynamic composition of geometric shapes. The picture is from F.C. Gundlach and is not only characteristic of his photography style, but above all a homage to Op Art.

F.C. Gundlach, Brigitte Bauer, Op Art swimsuit by Sinz, Vouliagmeni / Greece 1966, © F.C. Gundlach

No sooner had this style conquered the art world in the 1960s than it expanded to other areas: its geometric shapes and color figures conquered pop culture, advertising, fashion, music and interior design. Op art entered the catwalks, moved into the apartments, was sociable on the streets, on record covers as well as advertisements. Many Op Art artists had sought precisely this interdisciplinary exchange, above all Victor Vasarely: Instead of seeing his works as an exquisite partner in an elite art scene, he wanted to combine art, life and craft - a principle that he had adopted from the Weimar Bauhaus .

In 1930 Vasarely moved from Budapest to Paris and worked there himself as a graphic designer. During this time he began to deal more intensively with graphic means and their effect on space and perception. His art should be understandable and open in order to ultimately be able to influence everyday life. And it did: Vasarely's graphics found their way into galleries and department stores alike. He created prints for commercial use and repeatedly worked for large companies.

Renault brand logo by Victor Vasarely, 1972

In 1972, at the height of his success, Vasarely designed a new diamond logo for Renault, the emblem of the Summer Olympics in Munich as well as the dining room of the Deutsche Bundesbank in Frankfurt. His works appear on various record covers, for example by the composer Iannis Xenakis or David Bowie, and even inspired the Canadian composer John Rea to write an independent work (Tribute to Vasarely, 1977). Other Op Art artists followed suit - together they successfully transferred Op Art into pop culture.

The cover image for “David Bowie” (later: “Space Oddity”) 1969, photo: Vernon Dewhust © Vernon Dewhust

Once the shimmering shapes had prevailed, they were used and further developed by designers, photographers, magazines and musicians. The timing could hardly be more appropriate, because the fashion revolution occurred in the 1960s: music, film, design and social changes intermingled and invented fashion for the first time only for young people. Above all, the mod look, whose roots are in London. The clothing of the mods was straightforward and modern, the so-called target motif was their logo. Parkas, slim tailored suits and short A-shaped dresses were part of her regular repertoire. And the monochrome, geometric prints of Op Art completed the look.

Target-Dress by Pierre Cardin, 1966, © Pierre Cardin

The French fashion designer Pierre Cardin was also inspired by this and designed it in 1966 Target dress - the icon made textile for a whole decade. The dress was featured in all leading magazines. The influence of Op Art was also found in other of his designs in the following years and was increasingly accompanied by futuristic influences, for example in Cardins Cosmos ensemble from 1967 or his 1969 collection, in which wide stripes are the defining element. When the mod style hit the other side of the Atlantic, New York was under the influence of the op art exhibition The Responsive Eye (1965).

From the Space Age Collection by André Courrèges, 1964, © André Courrèges

In the meantime, other well-known designers have also taken up the motifs, including André Courrèges, Mary Quant, Ossie Clark and Yves Saint Laurent. The French fashion designer André Courrèges - known for his playful combination of childlike and geometric elements - experimented with the patterns. Since 1965, op-art has increasingly flowed into a space look, based on space exploration of the 1960s. His dresses wore checkerboard patterns that were reminiscent of Bridget Riley, and Op Art also found its way into his creations in the 1968 spring / summer collection: sometimes explicitly like a dress with a trompe l'oeil bikini under elaborate embroidered Op Art circles, then again as a more hidden bond in the form of the smallest but regular ball embroidery.

© Yves Saint Laurent

For his own fashion house in the mid-1960s, Yves Saint Laurent was repeatedly inspired by Op Art and irregular patterns as in Vasarelys Metagalaxy were also found with designers like Rossi. How strong the trend towards a synthesis of Op Art and Futurism went is shown by both the designers mentioned and the fashion magazines themselves, above all Vogue, who also consistently placed their stylings under its aesthetic rule.

While individual Op Art artists reacted critically to the commercialization of their work, Vasarely found his dialogical request realized. He even worked with the textile company Edinburgh Weavers, who, along with Heal’s and Hull Traders, paved the way for Op Art prints to enter the decade's facilities.

As early as 1955, Victor Vasarley had in his Yellow manifest(Manifest Jaune) demanded that the work of art should be a repeatable, serially reproducible prototype, with the applicability of its forms beyond art - in the 60s and 70s this idea became reality. Even if the psychedelic prints were eventually replaced by organic, nature-inspired forms, they still have an effect today. Time and again, Op Art finds its way back into pop culture and especially fashion, in order to be re-imagined by important designers: Comme des Garçons, Alexander McQueen, Dries van Noten, Issey Miyake, Jean Paul Gaultier, Junya Watanabe, Gareth Pugh, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Marimekko, Pucci, Valentino - the list is growing all the time.

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