Critics’ Picks

Norberto Gómez, Untitled, 1967, painted wood, 83 x 78 x 11''.

New York

“The Illusive Eye”

El Museo del Barrio
1230 Fifth Avenue
February 3 - May 21

At the end of the catalogue for “The Responsive Eye”—the infamous survey of contemporary Op art that opened at MoMA in February 1965, marking the movement’s simultaneous debut and apogee—curator William Seitz asked, “What are the potentialities of a visual art capable of affecting perception so physically and directly? Can an advanced understanding and application of functional images open a new path from retinal excitation to emotions and ideas?”

These fifty-year-old questions, which Seitz did not venture to answer, have been taken up anew by “The Illusive Eye.” On its face, the show aims to expand the geographic and historical purview of Op, giving greater emphasis to the Latin American artists who developed a dizzying language of geometric abstraction from the 1950s to the 1970s. Many of these have since become critical and/or commercial darlings, including Julio Le Parc, Jesús Rafael Soto, and Carlos Cruz-Diez. But the show also has its surprises, exemplified by Norberto Gómez’s Untitled, 1967, a white grid of closed and open rectangular volumes that are stacked vertically but almost seem to cascade diagonally.

In a brief text, Jorge Daniel Veneciano, El Museo’s director, foregrounds a second, more philosophical aim of the show. As if replying to Seitz, he argues that Op’s abstraction is not an end unto itself but a vehicle for mystical experience, generated by groundless space, geometric patterns, repetitive movement, and the esoteric belief in mathematics as universal truth. The premise is provocative, and not only because of Op’s deliberate embrace of scientific principles and industrial forms and materials (a topic explored most recently by the art historian Pamela Lee). Though these terms may seem irreconcilable, the small number of kinetic machines in the show—which notably were excluded from “The Responsive Eye”—suggest that works such as Martha Boto’s Optique Helicoidial (Mouvement), 1967, offer an encounter with the technological sublime.