2. A Vasarelian world

Op Art and planetary folklore.

In the 1950s the Hungarian-born artist Victor Vasarely came to realise that while both music and writing have their own symbolic alphabets with which new works may be created, no such building blocks existed for the visual arts. This led him to develop his 'plastic alphabet' of small coloured squares on which a smaller circle, square or triangle of a different colour was superimposed. By selecting pieces of the alphabet and arranging them in different ways an unlimited number of artworks could be created in tesselating permutations of form and colour.

Using this plastic alphabet Vasarely sought to democratize art, first by creating works based solely on the immediacy of visual perception without recourse to the viewer's background or education, and second by breaking away from traditional art markets – where original, one-of-a-kind works of art are the luxury of a privileged few – in favour of cheap, mass-produced art that is accessible to all, irrespective of wealth or social status.
Victor Vasarely, Planetary Folklore Participations No.1
Victor Vasarely, Planetary Folklore Participations No.1, 1969.
Vasarely's plastic alphabet was shown at his Planetary Folklore exhibition in Paris, and two years later, in 1965, the Museum of Modern Art in New York showcased his work in The Responsive Eye, a ground-breaking and critically acclaimed exhibition of Op Art. The name was short for optical art but was also a kind of ludic counterpoint to Pop Art. Vasarely's anti-capitalist manifesto reached its logical conclusion in 1969 with the sale of boxed do-it-yourself kits for people to create their own Op Art. These Vasarely Planetary Folklore Participations No. 1, as the kits were called, contained 390 pieces of the plastic alphabet and a 10 x 10 frame in which to arrange them.