From its inception, the artists in the Anonima Group — a collaborative founded in Cleveland in 1960 by Ernst Benkert, Francis Hewitt, and Ed Mieczkowski — were intent on investigating scientific phenomena and the psychology of optical perception through art. At the time, it was the sole group of its kind active in the United States. The Anonima artists explored hard-edge, geometric abstraction using an agreed-upon set of limitations and relying on grids for the formation of twodimensional works that were intended to produce an effect on the eye. The work was precise and graphically bold, a sharp contrast to the automatic painting of the Abstract Expressionists, a movement at its height when Anonima was established. It also stood in contrast to the Ab Ex emphasis on individual selfexpression. Op Art was more accessible, and the nature of its effects were the same from viewer to viewer. “We were definitely aware of the need to bring the spectator into the work,” Mieczkowski told
. “We weren’t interested in presenting illusions but were definitely presenting material objects for their weight and value.” A retrospective exhibit of Mieczkowski’s art, The Aesthetics of Geometry , opens on Friday, Feb. 27, at LewAllen Galleries. The exhibit is a selection of works spanning 45 years that includes paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Mieczkowski’s work is also represented in Post-Op: ‘The Responsive Eye’ Fifty Years Later , a show at David Richard Gallery that commemorates the Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye , the seminal overview of Op Art that placed the movement firmly in the public consciousness.
Anonima artists were early proponents of the movement that became known as Op Art, an analytical type of art that often had an illusory effect on the viewer. Benkert, Hewitt, and Mieczkowski emphasized the science behind their works. They embarked on a multiyear plan to explore aspects of visual experience and translate them into paintings and drawings. “We felt aligned with the positive nature of science,” said Mieczkowski, “and we were very optimistic.” The group’s rigorous practice was centered on features of objects such as overlap, relative size changes, brightness ratio, and light and shade — visual cues that indicate three dimensions but are realized using only two.
Now it seems necessary to separate Mieczkowski’s more illusory works that emphasize fluctuation and movement — visual anomalies experienced by the eye — from his geometric abstractions, linear constructions whose components don’t exist, necessarily, in illusory space. Op Art evolved as a movement only in hindsight, the term itself coined by the press. When MOMA curator William C. Seitz organized
The Responsive Eye and included works by Anonima’s members, it was in response to a recognition that artists from a spectrum of disciplines were dealing with similar perceptual concerns. The artists, however, did not embrace the term. “Early on, we rejected it,” Mieczkowski said. “We felt that categorizing it could potentially restrict our movements.”
While precursors to Op Art can be found in Bauhaus aesthetics, Russian Constructivism, and even trompe l’oeil, Mieczkowski and some of his contemporaries weren’t directly governed by European artistic traditions. “We were more aligned with American studies in the psychology of perception,” he said. “We very definitely separated ourselves from European influences. We have gone so far into painting as to make influence irrelevant.”