SHAPE SHIFTER

Pasatiempo - - RAMDOM ACTS - artist Ed Mieczkowski Pasatiempo

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.”

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