Op art, short for optical art, is a style of visual art that uses optical illusions.
Op art works are abstract, with many better known pieces created in black and white. Typically, they give the viewer the impression of movement, hidden images, flashing and vibrating patterns, or of swelling or warping.
The antecedents of Op art, in terms of graphic and color effects, can be traced back to Neo-impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism and Dada.
Time Magazine coined the term op art in 1964, in response to Julian Stanczak's show Optical Paintings at the Martha Jackson Gallery, to mean a form of abstract art (specifically non-objective art) that uses optical illusions. Works now described as "op art" had been produced for several years before Time's 1964 article. For instance, Victor Vasarely's painting Zebras (1938) is made up entirely of curvilinear black and white stripes not contained by contour lines. Consequently, the stripes appear to both meld into and burst forth from the surrounding background. Also, the early black and white "dazzle" panels that John McHale installed at the This Is Tomorrow exhibit in 1956 and his Pandora series at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1962 demonstrate proto-op art tendencies. Martin Gardner featured Op Art and its relation to mathematics in his July 1965 Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. In Italy, Franco Grignani, who originally trained as an architect, became a leading force of graphic design where Op Art or Kenetic Art was central. His Woolmark Logo (launched in Britain in 1964) is probably the most famous of all his designs.
Op art perhaps more closely derives from the constructivist practices of the Bauhaus. This German school, founded by Walter Gropius, stressed the relationship of form and function within a framework of analysis and rationality. Students learned to focus on the overall design or entire composition to present unified works. Op art also stems from Trompe-l'œil and Anamorphosis. Links with psychological research have also been made, particularly with Gestalt theory and Psychophysiology. When the Bauhaus was forced to close in 1933, many of its instructors fled to the United States. There, the movement took root in Chicago and eventually at the Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, where Anni and Josef Albers eventually taught.
In 1955, for the exhibition « Mouvements » at the Denise René gallery in Paris, Victor Vasarely and Pontus Hulten promoted in their "Yellow manifesto" some new kinetic expressions based on optical and luminous phenomenon as well as painting illusionism. The expression "Kinetic art" in this modern form first appeared at the Museum für Gestaltung of Zürich in 1960, and found its major developments in the 1960s. In most European countries, it generally includes the form of optical art that mainly makes use of optical illusions, like Op art, as well as art based on movement represented by Yacov Agam, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesús Rafael Soto, Gregorio Vardanega or Nicolas Schöffer. From 1961 to 1968, the GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel) founded by François Morellet, Julio Le Parc, Francisco Sobrino, Horacio Garcia Rossi, Yvaral, Joël Stein and Vera Molnár was a collective group of opto-kinetic artists that—according to its 1963 manifesto—appealed to the direct participation of the public with an influence on its behaviour, notably through the use of interactive labyrinths.