Victor Vasarely
Year, Birthplace 1908, Hungary
Year, Place of death 1997, France
Victor Vasarely’s family settled in Budapest in 1918. At secondary school his drawings stood out and he enrolled in evening classes at a painting school. In 1927, he attended a painting academy and, the following year, the Mühely graphic arts school (The Studio), run by Sándor Bortnyk, a former Bauhaus pupil, which allowed him to discover the art of Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg and László Moholy-Nagy. Two years later, he won a poster competition, the prize for which allowed him to travel to Paris. He became an advertising designer and worked for Havas, Draeger and Devambez before setting up his own advertising agency in 1943. He remained isolated, showing his works only once, in 1934, in a group exhibition at the Pléiade gallery. During this period he produced a repertory of codes, signs, and references which he would come to use later on. It was not until 1944 that his work was revealed to the eyes of the world, in his first solo exhibition in Paris at the Denise René gallery, which had only just opened. In 1946, his art was still figurative and, in 1947, it deviated towards abstraction. That year, in a special edition of the journal Art présent, he published an article entitled ‘Optique, graphisme et publicité' [Optics, graphics and advertising] which described his working process. The following periods were well defined and successive: Belle-Île, from the summer of 1947, was a sequence of studies of pebbles, shells and waves (until 1954); Cristal, started in 1948, was a reflection on cubes and transparencies, carried out in Gordes, a place that he discovered and began to visit regularly; Denfert, from 1951, corresponds to studies inspired by the ‘craquelés’, or crackles, in the enamelled tiles in the Denfert-Rochereau metro station, through which he passed every day. At the end of the war, his exhibitions became more frequent: Art concret, at the Drouin gallery in 1945; Salon des réalités nouvelles [New Realities Salon], from 1946; Les Premiers Maîtres de l'art abstrait [The First Masters of Abstract Art], organised in the Maeght gallery in 1949 by Michel Seuphor, who published his book L'Art abstrait, ses origines, ses premiers maîtres. At that time, Vasarely belonged to the generation that brought together Jean Dewasne, Jean Deyrolle, Marie Raymond, Hans Hartung, Robert Jacobsen, Jean Piaubert, Gérard Schneider, Richard Mortensen and Serge Poliakoff. Vasarely became the chief organizer and advisor of the Denise René gallery. His solo exhibition in that gallery, in 1949, was a success. He achieved growing fame, especially in the Nordic countries, where he exhibited regularly. During that period he rejected easel painting, carrying out prototypes and sketches for large formats, working on enlargements through projected light, with the ambition of creating monumental works on the scale of buildings, or even cities. His desire was to offer art to everybody, situating it in daily life, making it part of the urban scenery. His aims would be made reality in 1951-1952 with the enormous mural decorations for the campus of Caracas university, in Venezuela, and with a sculpture called Cinétisme relief [Kineticism relief], made of vertical plates of painted aluminium, whose motifs changed with the movements of passers-by. This achievement paved the way for an impressive series of commissions all over the world, where Vasarely played with deflections of lines, variations of outlines, deformations of perspectives, and plays of projected shadows to create a spatial magic that is unique to him. From then on, he made use of numerous assistants to finish his studies, enlarging them. His 1955 exhibition at the Denise René gallery was called Le Mouvement (The Movement – with Jesús-Rafael Soto, Yaacov Agam, Pol Bury, Jacobsen). In 1960, he formed GRAV (the visual art research group) with Hugo Demarco, Julio Le Parc, François Morrelet, Yvaral (Vasarely’s son) and Nicolas Schöffer, who created his spatial-dynamic sculptures. All this heralded the triumph of Op Art in the 1960s and therefore of Vasarely, who achieved incredible international success and accumulated a series of prizes. He created a museum in Gordes in 1970, a foundation in Aix-en-Provence in 1971, and two ‘educational’ museums in Pécs (1976) and Budapest (1986). AC