February 21, 2024

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Art that could make you dizzy: The Responsive Eye: Video

From February to April 1965, the Museum of Modern Art held an exhibit called The Responsive Eye. It featured works by artists who were exploring op art—short for optical art or art that created optical illusions.

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Perhaps the artist who best represented this style was Bridget Riley, whose works in black and white virtually shimmer as you looked at them.

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My father took me to see the show at the Modern several times when I was 9. The exhibit was controversial, since art’s old guard viewed it less as art and more as a visual fun-house gimmick while the avant-garde thought the show was cool and on par with what was happening then in music and pop celebrity.

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I thought it was cool, too. Art that could make you dizzy or changed before your eyes as you moved your head from side to side. Wow. Op-art was so explosive it made it onto several jazz covers, including Herbie Mann’s Today!, Sam Rivers’s Dimensions & Extensions and Gary McFarland’s Soft Samba, to name a few.

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Director Brian De Palma’s first film was a documentary on the exhibit. Aptly entitled The Responsive Eye, the film seemed to poke fun at the swells dressed up to see the latest thing only to be at a loss for words as to why they thought it was special or thoroughly clumsy in how they tried to slam it.

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The film, which unfortunately is in black and white. I recall the show being explosively colorful…

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