As I was driving home today I recalled seeing online earlier this year that the artist Julian Stanczak had died aged 88. My bet is that very few of my occasional readers have heard of him. Indeed I’ll go further – I pretty much guarantee that hardly anyone visiting Seurat to Riley:The Art Of Perception at Compton Verney presently will have the faintest idea who he was (and the show is attracting a big audience).
Not that that last phrase should be a surprise. As always at this location the show is beautifully presented. There are obviously included figures such as Vasarely and Sedgley,; respectively the ‘grandfather’ of Op and the one time partner of Riley. There are other more ‘left field’ inclusions such as M.C. Escher on the one hand and one of the vastly underrated Vorticist women artists – Helen Saunders on the other (it’s great to see her work getting an outing but really to fit the bill of the show’s idea Bomberg’s In The Hold is a shoo-in for this show) .
It is an eclectic and lively collection with some oddball ‘current’ artists included – Jim Lambie for one – with a pretty ropey old piece too. Some pieces really don’t fit at all – it seems wilfully wrong headed to have the rather wonderful painting Endless Configuration by Kenneth Martin from 1964, where the whole construction has been lovingly, painstakingly wrought in balance and poise cheek by jowl with classic sixties Op works that are hammering home their message through simple repetitive geometry. Not that both do not have tqualities or their respective strengths and place in the canon – but just that those are two very different places indeed. It was good to see some of Sedgley’s pictures up on the walls again – the second time I’ve seen works by him in a week – and thats two more times than the previous several decades! One of them had powerful resonances with some of the pattern painters of the seventies and eighties…(and wouldn’t an early Valerie Jaudon work or a Ross Bleckner been an excellent addition to the display) and I guess thats where my gripe – if I have one – begins.
Its not that this show isn’t a jolly good visual feast – it is and is well worth a visit – but more that, having come away I’m not sure exactly what it was trying to say. And maybe that wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t actually trying to say anything at all! If it had just said here’s a random selection of good looking pictures – ok. But it wasn’t just that. For starters the connection between Georges Seurat and Riley is pretty tenuous anyway. After all pointillism is deconstructing in order to reconstruct. You can hardly accuse Riley (particularly in the early black and whites) of that. The inclusions of Vasarely, Sedgley, Jesus Rafael Soto etc. suggest – but fleetingly – that we may be attempting a survey of Op…but the exclusions and the even odder inclusions give a lie to that. We are rather coquettishly flirted with a bit of Kinetic art…yes a close relation to Op…but we get nothing like enough to tease out any connections and relationships properly.
There is work that has the appearance of opticality – the Daniel Buren piece is a good example – but really is a complete ‘outlier’ in terms of the notion of the show. There are the handful of graphic design works inspired by, or actually by, the Op movement (mostly Vasarely) but again insufficient material to be properly contextualising the show as a whole ( I can think off the top of my head of half a dozen examples of graphics based on Alber’s Homage To The Square, not thats its really clear what thats doing in the show anyway!). I’m going on now so I’ll shut up but there are plenty more inconsistencies and oddities that rather undermine any genuine curatorial thread.
So overall its a good collection of bits and bobs but doesn’t add up to a decent survey of Op or really demonstrate the idea of perception, or colour, or opticality. Dear old Michael Kidner RA most certainly deserved inclusion and getting hold of a piece of his from the sixties or later surely was possible?
I also just checked up and the Tate has a decent screen print by Richard Anuszkiewicz…the leading American Op artist from exactly the right period 1965…that could, and should, have been there. Oh and – to be fair – I doubt there’s an easily available work by Julian Stanczak in the UK…but he was the guy whose NYC solo show in 1964 is – through a Don Judd review – reputed to have launched the term Op Art.