The Father of Op Art: Josef Albers

Katherine20th Century Art, Contemporary / Modern ArtLeave a Comment

Josef Albers made an impressive mark on the history of 20th-century art. He is considered to be one of the most visionary modern painters.  His theories about art and color were, and still are, powerful influences on a whole generation of artists and his work, particularly with regards to perception and color, was undeniably one of the major influences on the Op Art Movement. He is often referred to as the “Father of Op Art”.

Op Art, or optical art, challenges the eye. It explores and creates tension between how one sees and processes patterns. The Op Art Movement was the highest expression of abstract, non-representational art. Op artists created works that engaged viewers in a new way by understanding the eye’s reaction to visual stimulus and taking unique advantage of negative and positive space

Josef Albers homage to the square

“Wide Light from Homage to the Square: Ten Works” by Josef Albers at the Museum of Modern Art

The Op Art Movement has influences rooted in art and science. In the 19th century, scientists studied perception by crafting illusions.  Albers approached the creation of art scientifically based on observation and experimentation.  It was at Yale that he produced the series Homage to the Square.  This body of work centered on the use of color to create different illusions and was some of the first Op Art style work to be created.  This work is perhaps what he is best known for.

In 1965, the Museum of Modern Art presented “The Responsive Eye” – a showcase of 123 works of art and 100 artists. It was a ground-breaking “Op Art” exhibition.  Josef Albers had six oil paintings in this exhibition. While the show was popular and sparked interest in the movement, critics dismissed Op Art as a gimmick. Many artists who were defined as Op Art rejected the label and the movement receded as quickly as it had grown. However, this is no longer the case. It is now argued that Op Art is an offshoot of Pop Art and many works are being reexamined.

Illusion and testing the limit of perception has intrigued us for centuries. Op Art speaks to this fascination. While it was shortsighted of critics to pan the movement decades ago, this did not quell interest. Op Art is full of possibility and has influenced Modern art and present day abstraction, with much of the credit going to Josef Albers and his vision.

Albers was a tremendous influence as a teacher as well. Notable students he taught were Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse, whom are considered major players in the Op-Art movement.

Josef Albers extraordinary work can be found in some of the world’s best art museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art; Tate London and Hamberg Kunsthalle and many others.

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