Painted between 1969 and 1970, Biga is an abstract mosaic-like composition by Victor Vasarely, one of the founding members of the Op Art movement. Part of his celebrated Gestalt series, examples of which are held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, it exemplifies the kaleidoscopic optical illusions for which Vasarely’s work is universally renowned. Meticulously reproducing a single cellular structure within an all-encompassing hexagonal form, the work’s hypnotic labyrinthine structure produces a complex kinetic sensation – a mesmerizing dynamism that lends the surface an illusory sense of depth. The foundations of Vasarely’s Op Art idiom derive from mathematical systems and basic geometric forms: the circle, the square, and the triangle. Inspired by Gestalt psychology, which considers the way the viewer’s mind perceives visual information, Vasarely’s new pictorial language is realized through his distortion of the conventional relationship between figure and ground. Though mediated by symmetry and repetition, the use of chromatic gradients produces an ethereal, foggy sensation – a strange, alternative reality that preys upon the viewer’s psyche. In Biga, Vasarely’s juxtaposition of contrasting colours renders a form that appear to vibrate in three dimensions. Optically spellbinding, the work exemplifies John Lancaster’s claim that ‘Optical Art is a method of painting concerning the interaction between illusion and picture plane, between understanding and seeing’ (J. Lancaster, Introducing Op Art, London 1973, p. 28).
By the end of the 1960s, Vasarely’s international reputation was on the rise. His work came to prominence when it was featured in the 1965 group exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, alongside artists including Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Bridget Riley and Frank Stella. During this period he began to deepen his visual enquiries, experimenting with new approaches to form and colour in series including Vonal, Vega and, ultimately, Gestalt. While Vasarely championed a technical, quasi-scientific approach to image making, his project was equally motivated by democratic and anti-elitist ideals, and the Gestalt series in particular exemplifies his concern to develop a visual language that could be universally understood. ‘The Art of tomorrow will be a collective treasure or will not be Art at all’, he proclaimed. Art was an integral part of everyday life; in the spirit of this belief system, he hoped his own practice would enrich and enhance the human environment - ultimately through its application in urban planning and architecture.