BRIDGET RILEY (B. 1931)
BRIDGET RILEY (B. 1931)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE NEUMANN FAMILY COLLECTION
BRIDGET RILEY (B. 1931)

Reverse

Details
BRIDGET RILEY (B. 1931)
Reverse
signed and dated ‘Riley ‘63’ (on the turnover edge)
emulsion on board
43 1⁄4 x 28 1⁄4in. (109.9 x 71.8cm.)
Painted in 1963
Provenance
Richard Feigen Gallery, New York.
Morton G. Neumann, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1965), and thence by descent to the present owners.
Literature
R. Kudielka, A. Tommasini and N. Naish (eds.), Bridget Riley: The Complete Paintings, Volume 1, 1959-1973, London 2018, p. 88, no. BR 31 (illustrated in colour, p. 89).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Evening Sale, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Offered from the celebrated Neumann Family Collection, Reverse is a rare early work by Bridget Riley. Painted in 1963, it is a dazzling optical spectacle that eloquently captures her arrival as an artist. Across its hypnotic expanse, alternating triangles of black and white connect in a rippling tessellated pattern, expanding and contracting like folded cloth. Acquired in 1965 and unseen in public since then, the work belongs to her breakthrough series of black and white paintings, which occupied her between 1961 and 1966. These works not only propelled her to international acclaim, but also came to embody the zeitgeist of London’s Swinging Sixties, featuring in publications such as Tatler and Vogue. Within this early output, Riley’s triangle-based paintings played a key role: the present work is an important example of her so-called ‘point movement’ technique, whereby subtly shifting the triangle’s dimensions across the composition creates the illusion of rising and falling motion. Other examples of her early triangle paintings—just ten of which exist in total—reside in the Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection, the Dia Art Foundation and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Reverse stems from a pivotal moment in Riley’s career. Following her first solo exhibition at Gallery One in London the previous year, the artist mounted a second show there in 1963 to critical acclaim:  Norbert Lynton, writing in Art International, described it as ‘quite the most brilliant (in more than one sense of the word) exhibition in London’ (N. Lynton, ‘London Letter, Riley’, Art International, Vol. 7 No. 8, October 1963, p. 84). That year, she won an Open Section prize at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition, and was subsequently awarded the AICA Critics Prize; her 1963 painting Fall was also acquired by the Tate Gallery, making a significant contribution to its contemporary art holdings. By the following year, Riley had well and truly taken her place at the forefront of the British Art scene, featuring in a number of prestigious exhibitions that included the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s The New Generation: 1964 and the major international survey Nouvelle Tendence at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. This trajectory was to culminate in her inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s historic exhibition The Responsive Eye in 1965: a landmark show dedicated to Op Art and other explorations of human vision. Of all the artists featured—among them Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Victor Vasarely and Frank Stella—it was Riley’s work that was selected for the catalogue cover.

Riley’s early black and white works marked a major breakthrough within her practice, forming the basis of an extraordinary six-decade-long enquiry into the mechanics of human perception. Her previous works consisted largely of homages to Georges Seurat, whose Pointillist technique was a key source of inspiration to the young artist. Since her childhood in Cornwall, Riley had been fascinated by the mysteries of vision, paying meticulous attention to the tiny shifts and nuances that define the way we process visual information. While Seurat’s canvases had provided much scope for deep analysis, it was not until the black and white paintings that Riley hit upon a means of formulating her own discoveries. By sequencing simple shapes through a variety of different configurations, she was able to explore at close range the complex optical sensations that even the most basic lines and hues were capable of inciting.

In Reverse and its companions, the use of point movement adds a new layer of complexity. Subtly bending the dimensions of the triangle creates the illusion of compression and expansion, which in turn is complicated by the alternation of black and white forms. Riley recalls that the sense of the work contracting both horizontally and vertically was a form of disruption that had parallels in life drawing, echoing the way that the near-symmetry of the human form becomes exaggerated as soon as it begins to move. In such instances, as in the present work, the smallest degree of interference has the power to bring an otherwise stable structure to life. In this light, Riley’s debt to the Italian Futurists—another major influence upon her practice during this period—is also keenly felt. Movement flows through the work’s very veins, seemingly powered by twin shafts of arrows pointing in two directions simultaneously.

Almost overnight, Riley and her work became unwitting style icons during the 1960s. Frances Follin writes that her paintings symbolised the ‘new Britain’, embodied elsewhere by figures such as The Beatles and Mary Quant: ‘her art aligned with the urban scientific, socially progressive face of a new, young national identity’, she explains (F. Follin, Embodied Visions: Bridget Riley, Op Art and the Sixties, London 2004, p. 120). For Riley, however, such attributes lay far beyond her artistic goals. Neither style nor science were motivating factors for her; rather, it was sensation that lay at the core of her investigations. Abstraction was not the end point of her art, but rather a means of distilling—to its most fundamental essence—the rich somatic experience of looking. The scholar and theorist Anton Ehrenzweig, who visited Riley’s studio during this period and wrote an essay for her second exhibition at Gallery One, explained that ‘There is a constant tug-of-war between shifting and crumbling patterns but at a certain point this relentless attack on our lazy viewing habits will peel our eyes into a new crystal-clear sensibility … There comes a voluptuous moment when the senses and the whole skin tingle with a sharpened awareness of the body and the world around’ (A. Ehrenzweig, Bridget Riley, exh. cat. Gallery One, London 1963, n.p.). The present work bears witness to this assessment: like breathing, or singing, it rises and falls to its own innate rhythm.     

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