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Victor Vasarely, Phobos, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 63 × 63".

Victor Vasarely

Maxwell Davidson Gallery

Victor Vasarely, Phobos, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 63 × 63".

Victor Vasarely (1906–1997) has been accorded the historical distinction of being labeled the first Op artist, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, the usual ideas about Vasarely—that he was a Systemic artist, to use Lawrence Alloway’s term, or a kind of graphic artist or designer (in 1928 and 1929 he studied both disciplines at a Bauhaus outpost in Budapest), or a serial artist specializing in what he called plastique cinétique—ignore the emotional depth and power of his works, and with that undermine their significance. Vasarely was a technical virtuoso, but his work is also deeply imaginative, seamlessly integrating two apparently distinct dimensions of modernist art—what Paul Valéry called “color patches” (Cézanne’s “color sensations” and Seurat’s “chromoluminarism” are exemplary), on the one hand, and Bauhaus Constructivism and Kazimir Malevich’s

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