1. Do your homework: Context is key
Optical art can be loosely defined as works that convey a sense of three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional plane. In a sense, optical art has been around for centuries. Trompe l’oeil works have been delighting viewers since the Renaissance, but seen in a contemporary context, optical art is often marked by its use of enticing colors and bold, geometric shapes.
While it’s clear that optical art is a market that’s on the move, to understand where it’s going, you have to do a little research on where it’s been. You can chart the trajectory of this market both in terms of artists and collectors. It’s important to know key early artists in this movement — like Victor Vasarely and Günther Förg — and to realise that even though the market was once dominated by European collectors, buyers from the United States have increasingly taken an interest in this category.
Richard Anuszkiewicz (b. 1930), Rainforest, 1969. Acrylic on canvas. Estimate: $25,000 - 35,000. This work and others featured in this story are offered in the First Open/NYC Sale on 22 July
2. Take a closer look at condition
While condition is an important factor whenever you’re buying a work of art, it is especially important when acquiring optical art. Optical artists often work with extremely thin layers of paint, meaning that if a work is damaged, it can be more obvious and more difficult to repair. Also, optical artists are known to paint on Masonite or panel, so the quality of the panel is definitely something buyers will want to consider before making a final purchase. Above all, optical art is meant to reflect a certain precision and a pristine condition — or as close to it as you can get — will amplify the overall visual impact of this type of art.
Victor Vasarely (1906-1997), URU, 1975. Acrylic on masonite. Estimate: $12,000 - 18,000.
3. Make home where the art is
One of the most important things to understand about optical art is just how easy it is to live with. With its polished, defined and methodical compositions, optical art isn’t messy or complicated — which makes it easy on the eyes and a great fit for most interiors. It also pairs well with other works — we’d love to see this work next to a Lucio Fontana painting…or as the backdrop to a modern or minimalist sculpture.
Gunther Uecker (b. 1930), Spirale, 1969. Oil and nails on canvas mounted on panel. Price realised: $530,500
4. Understand where the market is going
The market for optical art is only growing and this category is becoming increasingly diverse. Chinese contemporary artists — including Wang Guangle — have begun to incorporate elements of optical art into their work, and other artists from around the world, notably Jesús Rafael Soto, have also followed suit.
Wang Guangle (B. 1966), Untitled. Copyright 2012-2013 Wang Guangle
5. Never stop learning
For someone who’s new to this category, there’s a lot to learn, and thankfully, there are some really great resources out there to get you started. Check out Op Art by Frances Follin, Claus Pias and Martina Weinhart, as well as Optical Art: Theory and Practice by Rene Parola. I also love this gorgeous pop-up book if you’re looking for a fun read on op art forerunner Victor Vasarely. While background reading is important, don’t forget that Christie’s specialists are always happy to discuss a particular artist’s market and can also answer any specific questions you may have along the way.
To learn more about our summer sales of Prints and Post-War and Contemporary Art, visit At First Sight.