Richard AnuszkiewiczWhen Richard Anuszkiewicz (pronounced Anna-SKEV-ich) first exhibited his work at The Contemporary Gallery in New York in 1960, critics hardly knew what to say. The vast majority had been weaned on Abstract Expressionism, and though Anuszkiewicz's work was non-representational, one thing it wasn't was expressionistic, and it stretched the definition a bit to even call it abstract. In fact it was about as opposite of Abstract Expressionism as could be imagined. One complained his work, "...makes havoc of normal vision." Another found them, "...so intense as to make one wince." Yet another critic noted that they, "...dazzle and perplex the eye." Still another compared the experience of seeing Anuszkiewicz's work to "...putting one's finger in a light socket." Others found it hard to focus upon them. What could be so troubling to the critics that they found it hard to even look at Anuszkiewicz’s work? Perhaps there should have been a sign outside with the words, "Welcome to OP art."
Aside from the physical aspects, the retinal fatigue that is at the core of Op Art, that which makes it move and sometimes also makes it moving, was a more profound aspect--its disturbing departure from every definition of abstract art critics had become accustomed to. This was premeditated art, not action painting. It was as coldly contrived as Pop Art, its partner in crime in usurping the place of Abstract Expressionism. Op was pure design, downright scientific in its approach, as left-brained as Pollock had been right brained. Critics were use to analysing the artist's personality through his work, writing reams as to what the painter might mean to imply in prose so esoteric even the artists themselves were often left puzzled, scratching their heads in reading a review, while muttering, "Damn, I'm good."
Anuszkiewicz's Op art demonstrated a physical presence, totally devoid of any meaning, a device with which to explore how human eyes and brains reacted to juxtapositions of dissonant or exactly complementary colours, combined with lines which created disconcerting, convex/concave illusions that, while vibrating, were also vibrant in their brilliance, poised in their harmony and beauty. Pictures on web sites, even in books, can't even come close to the powerful effect these works have upon the viewer. One is left questioning how something so incredibly beautiful can play such tricks on the eyes, indeed, even result in painful discomfort. Anuszkiewicz's 1970 work, entitled Trinity, has this effect. Pop Art is often accused of "killing off" Abstract Expressionism. It's a bum rap, in that the 50s "bull in a china shop" movement was already on its deathbed, dying of old age. Pop, and Op were merely what came next, pall bearers perhaps, whose only crime was to benefit from its demise. Op inherited the abstract qualities, Pop some of the expressiveness. Both have long-since blown their inheritance, but in their high-flying glory days, they redefined art, demanding that critics and connoisseurs alike write home for a reality check.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
28 August 1999