Horacio Garcia Rossi and GRAV. The Geometry of Imaginary Space
The exhibition in halls 339 – 342 of the Winter Palace is a continuation of sorts relating to an earlier exhibition titled Italian Kinetic Movement, organized at the State Hermitage Museum in 2006. Displayed are 40 works by GRAV artists (from the French Group de Recherche d’Art Visual – Group of Visual Arts Research), collected from museum and private collections and encompassing half a century of creativity.
The GRAV group was formed in France in 1960 when the dominant, mainstream trends in the visual arts were pop-art and op-art (“optical-art”), both considered reactions to contemporary, technological, omnipresent advertisement and mass-culture. But if pop-art played with popular images and symbols, often interpreting them ironically, op-art, having developed from the geometrical abstraction of the 1920-30s, was the “bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh” of the 1960s, with its passion for exact sciences, cybernetics, new technologies and discoveries in the field of human perception. Members of GRAV focused on this optical art. The Group’s declaration was signed by both renowned masters, such as Francois Morellet, Victor Vasarely (Vasarhelyi) and Jean-Pierre Yvaral (son of the latter), and young artists like Horacio Garcia Rossi, Julio Le Parc, Francisco Sobrino and Joel Stein, who arrived in Paris from Argentina in late 1950s.
GRAV’s members experimented mainly in the field of optical and kinesthetic art. Their manifesto, Enough Mystification (1961), proclaimed: “There shall never be works of art intended to be perceived solely by the cultured eye, by the sensitive eye, by the intellectual eye, by the aesthete eye or the amateur eye. It is the human eye that shall be our reference point”. Their focus on the human eye as an organ of perception - one that reacts and responds to optical illusions without conscious interpretation - led these young artists to attempt the creation of a genuinely universal art, one they believed could be appreciated and understood by anybody regardless of ethnicity, nationality, aesthetic tastes or level of education.
GRAV artists invented all kinds of optical illusions based on the effect of "surface quasi-deformation," a conflict between the static and the dynamic that agitates the eye, stimulating it to continuous form-generation, making the viewer a co-creator of the image. The paradox consists in op-art - which is based on thorough consideration, highly rationalized and disciplined - appealing not to the intellect but to the immediate reflex, through which one is able to appreciate its structurally perfect compositions. Op-art works don’t require long and thoughtful contemplation. "Meaningful content" is thus rejected for the sake of constant shifting, transformation, the illusion of motion, visible image-energy. F. Sobrino’s swelling and pulsating pictorial surfaces; J.-P. Yvaral’s kaleidoscopically indefinable structures and moving progressions; J. Stein’s iridescent spirals; V.Vasarely’s inconsistent labyrinth-like forms; and the geometrical constructions of F. Morellet and J.Le Parc - these works, though created in strict accordance with the rules of mathematics, are basically unstable. These models of “perpetuum mobile” are inconceivably static and dynamic, abstract and concrete, clear and ambiguous, all at the same time.
GRAV’s members rejected the idea of the Artist as "genious figure," emphasizing instead the importance of creative cooperation for the coming into being of a “solid and unified basis of collective theoretical and practical experience”. This, however, did not preclude the Group from disagreements and conflicts, which were aggravated over time. After GRAV was dissolved in 1968 as a result of apparent contradiction between their declared values (anonymity, etc.) and its individual members’ involvement in commercial art and other promotional activities, the artists mainly proceeded with their own development of the same ideas and principles that had once brought them together.
Horacio Garcia Rossi, the group’s leading figure, was born in 1929 in Buenos-Aires (Argentina). As a student of the National Academy of Fine Arts (Buenos-Aires) in 1950–1957, he made the acquaintance of young artists who would later contribute to the founding of GRAV. Rossi’s early paintings are mainly experiments with flat black-and-white forms. A characteristic feature of his GRAV-period works is the introduction of light and motion. His studies on the changeability-problem took shape as a series of moving light installations named Unstable Light Boxes. Since then, light has been a key element of all his works. Rossi experiments with light’s expressive properties, playing not only with graphic vibration, but also with its materiality. He put forth considerable effort to invent a dynamic alphabet whose every letter would be associated with an image, bright and vigorous, fitting with the letter’s shape and sound. His exercises in this sphere were crowned by a series of original “portraits” of names including those of the master’s family and fellow artists.
Since the late 1970s, Rossi has devoted his time to researching the interaction of light and colour, resulting in a new artistic medium that he calls Couleur lumiere (“Colour-light”), the main “subject” of a series of his works from that time. In his recent cycle, Chaos (2006–2007), the “colour-light” alternatively flashes, bursts or dies away on the canvas. It produces the dynamic moving effect that he has long been striving to achieve with the help of motors, lamps and other electro-mechanic equipment. In the piece, wide planes are crossed by an intense universal-scale confrontation of light-lines in flux, discharging a flood of energy into which the viewer plunges - witness to the eternal conflict between Chaos and Order, which inevitably ends in the victory of Light giving birth to Matter.
Horacio Garcia Rossi and GRAV. The Geometry of Imaginary Space was organized by the State Hermitage Museum together with Il Cigno Galileo Galilei Publishers (Rome, Italy) under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic in Saint Petersburg and the Consulate General of the Italian Republic in Saint Petersburg.
The exhibition is overseen by N.B. Demina, Junior Research Associate of the Department of Western European Art of the State Hermitage Museum.