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Bridget Riley’s art helps put spin into Louisiana’s Op art show

Survey of eye- and mind-boggling works opens in Danish museum

The British artist Bridget Riley visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art this week to preview Eye Attack, an exhibition of Op art and kinetic art that opens to the public today, 3 February, in the Humlebaek gallery, north of Copenhagen (until 5 June).

Although no fan of the term Op art, Riley was pleased to see many of her paintings on show, including her 1964 classic Current, which has been lent by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The British artist has also sent several works from her personal collection, says Kirsten Degel, who has co-organised with Tine Colstrup this large-scale survey of 100 eye-spinning works by 40 artists. “She is happy and we are happy,” says Degel, who adds that early visitors’ reactions have also been enthusiastic.

The curators felt that the time was ripe to reappraise the art movement that became a pop cultural phenomenon in the 1960s when they observed that when they hung Op art works from Louisiana’s collection in its intimate galleries and corridors “the traffic artery became a bottleneck.” Visitors stopped in their tracks and spent time to find out what was happening to their senses.  

The exhibition traces how optical and kinetic art was a victim of its success in the 1960s. Such was its popularity with US fashion and graphic designers, ad men and art editors, that when Riley arrived in New York ahead of the opening of MoMA’s landmark 1965 show The Responsive Eye, she saw the windows of Madison Avenue shops full of versions of her paintings on dresses and in the displays. “My heart sank,” she recalled. Things got worse at the exhibition opening when she saw guests dressed in outfits inspired by her black and white paintings: Riley-esque dresses, stockings and shoes were selling like hot cakes at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.

Works by Riley and Victor Vasarely (1906-97), the Bauhaus-trained artist whose geometric abstract works earned him the reputation as the Father of Op art, are central to the show. Eye Attack also includes paintings, reliefs, kinetic sculpture, light works and immersive environments by other international heavy-hitters among the artists whose work challenge viewers’ perceptions, including François Morellet, Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Gianni Colombo.

The exhibition, which will not travel beyond the Danish museum, has been designed by the architect Gudrun Krabbe. Accompanied by a catalogue in Danish and English, the exhibition is supported by Kund Hojgaard Fond and Beckett-Fonden.