Victor Vasarely’s innovations in color and optical illusion have had a profound influence on contemporary art. He is in the vanguard of contemporary artists who seek new ways to bring beauty and reality closer together, and his goal is to create art that becomes an integral part of everyday life and the environment.
The artist was born in Pecs, Hungary, in 1908. After receiving his baccalaureate degree in medicine, he began studying art at the Podolini-Volkmann Academy in Budapest. In 1929, he transferred to the Muhely Academy, also known as the Budapest Bauhaus. There he became familiar with contemporary research in color and optics by Johannes Itten, Josef Albers and the Constructivists Malevich and Kandinsky.
After his first one-man show in Budapest in 1930, Vasarely moved to Paris, the art center of the world. He established a successful business as a graphic draftsman, developing his fine art in the evenings after work.
In 1943, Vasarely began to work extensively in oils, creating both abstract and figurative canvases. His first Paris exhibition occurred the following year at Galerie Denise RenÃ©, which he helped to found. Vasarely became the leader of the avant-garde group of important artists affiliated with the gallery.
During the 1950s, Vasarely wrote a series of manifestos on the use of optical phenomena for artistic purposes. These were a significant influence on younger artists. According to Vasarely, “In the last analysis, the picture-object in pure composition appears to me as the last link in the family ‘paintings,’ still possessing by its shining beauty, an end in itself. But it is already more than a painting. The forms and colors which compose it are still situated, on the plane, but the plastic event which they trigger fuses in front of and in the plane. It is thereby an end, but also a beginning, a kind of launching pad for future achievements.”
In 1955, Galerie Denise RenÃ© hosted a major group exhibition in connection with Vasarely’s painting experiments with movement. This was the first important exhibition of kinetic art; in addition to art by Vasarely, it included works by Yaacov Agam, Pol Bury, Soto and Jean Tinguely, among others. Most Americans were first introduced to Vasarely by the groundbreaking exhibition, “The Responsive Eye,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1965. The show confirmed Vasarely’s international reputation as the father of Op art.
The artist has made numerous monumental sculptures and murals, including works for the Students’ Residential Center of Caracas; FacultÃ© des Sciences, Marseille-Saint-Jerome; University of Bonn; Padagogische Hochschule, Essen; University of the Ruhr, Bochum; Maine-Montparnasse Station, Paris; FacultÃ© des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Montpellier; and Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
Vasarely has received numerous important awards and honors, including the Guggenheim Prize, New York; Painting Prize, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Grand Prize, Eighth Biennial of Art, Sao Paulo; Medal of Honor, Aix-en-Provence; Gold Medal, Milan Triennial; Foreign Ministers’ Prize, Tokyo Biennale; and Certificate of Distinction and Presidential Citation, New York University. In 1970, Vasarely was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor in France. He has received an honorary Ph.D. from Cleveland State University and is an honorary professor at the School of Applied Arts, Budapest, as well as an honorary citizen of New Orleans and Villeparisis, France.
Among the many major books which have been written on Vasarely are Vasarely, A Survey of His Work by Jean Clay, Victor Vasarely by Abraham Moles, Vasarely by Gaston Diehi, Vasarely et le Cinetisme by Michael Ragon, Vasarely I-IV by Victor Vasarely and Vasarely by Werner Spies.
The artist’s works are included in almost every museum in the world which has a collection of contemporary art. Major museums in Gordes and in Aix-en-Provence, France; in Pecs, Hungary; and a wing of the Zichy Palace, Hungary are devoted exclusively to the art of Vasarely.
In 1989, Victor Vasarely visited the United States for the first time in many years to participate in the gala openings of two major Vasarely retrospective exhibitions at Circle Gallery-Soho, New York and Circle Gallery, Chicago.
Biography from the Archives of AskART.