The Worlds of Vasarely

Exposition en coursDu 9 mars au 27 avril

The worlds of Vasarely are many, reflecting the diversity of visual experiences that inspire them. Their common denominator is that they all take observation as their starting point. Only scale varies : for Vasarely, abstraction is simply the consequence of adjusting perception to different levels of reality. In 1945, he created a series of collages using shapes cut out from microphotographs. Here in lies one of the keys to his approach to abstraction—it is less a matter of breaking the ties with nature than of seeking out new forms from deep within what he called nature’s "internal geometry." In this way, the world of cells and crystals opened up to him.
Cells are explored in the biomorphic forms of his Belle-Isle series of works, while crystals are the basis of the cubist construction of oblique planes in the Gordes series. Added to this are the layered strata of the Denfert series inspired by fine cracks in wall tiles in the Paris metro, which are expanded by the painter to the dimension of geological landscapes that follow the movement of concave and convex folds in layers of rock (Tabriz, 1950–1954). Because with Vasarely, scale is continually oscillating. In the monumental Elbrouz (1956), named after the mountain in Iran, the crystalline structure evokes its primeval origins of rocks and minerals. Crystals took on an architectural aspect when the artist discovered the angular geometry of the village of Gordes in the Luberon region, which he first visited in the late 1940s. Sénanque (1948), Santorin (1950), and Yamada (1948) all play with perceptual ambiguities through the use of false symmetries and suggested repetitions of forms. Stones and glass washed up by the waves at Belle-Île in Brittany are shaped by the great forces of nature, thus expressing "the secret connection that exists between places and objects, between the different elements, between planets." As is conveyed in the overlapping oval forms of Longsor (1950–1952), the works in this series also echo the "unique whirlpool of energy" that gives rise to all things and creatures. The pebble was to set Vasarely on a path of cosmic reverie.
The cosmos : another scale. Vasarely’s world of black and white encountered the universe in the 1950s : Bellatrix M.V. (1957–1960) presents a succession of while circles, some with cut-off edges, set against a black background. The sharp tonal contrast makes the circles flicker like the star from which this work takes its name. As in previous series, the titles of these works do not draw any representational link between the work and the real world. Instead, they lead the viewer’s imagination into a vast network of analogies and interconnections. From the gradations of color in Quazar-R (1968) emanate a luminous intensity that seeks to translate the phenomenon of irradiation suggested by its title, which refers to a highly powerful source of cosmic rays—that of quasars. In Quazar-Zett (1965–1971), another color range produces similar light effects that are enriched by the distortion of the grid that underlies the composition : this grid appears to swell and form a bubble shape on the picture plane that is comparable to those in the paintings in the Véga series, and those created in the masterful Terries II (1973–1975). This famous, typically Vasarelian motif provides a spectacular image representing the artist’s fascination with concepts of genesis and cosmic cataclysms : "They seem to breathe heavily, like pulsars born from a massive explosion that happened fifteen billion years ago. I am convinced that this birth is continuous, and has no end, and that it constitutes the very basis of the universe."
With Gestalt ville (1969), we see the appearance of the fourth dimension, thus completing the panorama of the universes of Vasarely. It is a multiverse, here showing a world buckled by spatial illusions generated by the progressive stacking of axonometric cubes which, aided by the play of light, can be read simultaneously as advancing or receding forms. Vasarely used these forms to build Piranesian architectures in which all sense of gravity has vanished, in which all information brought by unreliable spatial references is likely to be called into question. From one work to the next, the artist explored all the dimensions of a natural world that was not expelled from the creative process, but revisited according to a new axiom inspired by the science of his time : "Let us finish with Romantic Nature—our nature is biochemistry, astrophysics, and wave mechanics."

Arnauld Pierre
February 2019

Translated by Sarah Tooth Michelet

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The Worlds of Vasarely