L'occhio in gioco Palazzo del Monte di Pietà Padova

24 September 2022
26 February 2023

© Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence – photo Anne Foures
© Victor Vasarely, by SIAE 2022

The Art of Deceiving Sight

Illusion of movement, chromatic plays, perspective deceptions, distorting mirrors, optical effects… Like a roller coaster, L’occhio in gioco, an exhibition which combines painting, sculpture, photography, science and technology, will take you up and down, back and forth in time, between the Middle Ages and contemporaneity, Picasso and the Lumière brothers, Kandinsky and Balla, Man Ray and Klee, Boccioni and Duchamp, discovering the many and fascinating tricks with which man has managed to deceive his eyes. 

A kaleidoscopic journey on the border between art and science, in a city, Padua, in which these two worlds have always been intertwined, from Galileo to the school of psychology of perception and the birth of Gruppo N, an avant-garde artistic-cultural collective from Padua performing Optical and Kinetic art. To them is indeed dedicated the monograph ending an exhibition joining the celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the University of Padua.

In the beginning were the circle and the colour. The Cosmos representation between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The cosmic spheres and the human being
miniature dal Liber divinorum 
1225 ca.

miniatura liber divinorum occhio in gioco

As round as the eye: the constant centrality of the sphere, from Galileo to the avant-gardes.

edited by H.G. Clarke & Co., Londra

disco zootropio l'occhio in gioco padova

Do I see or do I not see? Colour and light: Goethe’s theories become the brushstrokes of Seurat and Kandinsky.

Vasilij Kandinskij
Red Node

vasilij kandinskij nodo rosso

And yet it does not move! The avant-garde and the illusion of movement.

Umberto Boccioni
Sketch for La città sale

umberto boccioni bozzetto la città sale

“Machines for the eye”. Photography and cinema in search of movement.

Anton Giulio Bragaglia

bragaglia movimento l'occhio in gioco padova

Look at me, please! Optical art conquers the scene with its illusions.

Vernon Dewhurst
cover for David Bowie, Space Oddity, detail

dewhurst david bowie space oddity l'occhio in gioco padova

Art in motion. If the beholder’s eyes move: lenses and mirrors between Ontani and Kapoor.

Manfredo Massironi
Alveare (Trasparente monocromo)

Massironi alveare L'occhio in gioco Padova

Art in motion. If things move: Dadamaino’s holes and overlaps.

Oggetto ottico dinamico

dadamaino oggetto ottico dinamico l'occhio in gioco padova

Padua between art and science. The success of Paduan artists and psychologists who investigated the same perceptual phenomena.

Alberto Biasi
Sketch for Spazio oggetto ellebi

biasi spazio oggetto ellebi l'occhio in gioco padova

Gruppo N. How a collective of artists explored vision through optical effects.

Gruppo N
Strutturazione cinetica

gruppo n strutturazione cinetica

Deceiving the eyes is an art (but also a science)

Am I in Padua or New York? The estrangement, the hallucinations, the dizziness caused by many of the exhibited works, could lead the viewer to ask a similar question by visiting an exhibition such as Trick of the Eye: deliberately conceived from an international perspective, in fact, the exhibition explores artistic research and the many ways in which, from the Middle Ages to the present, the sense of sight has been deceived and deluded. Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero for the historical part and by Guido Bartorelli, Giovanni Galfano, Andrea Bobbio and Massimo Grassi from the University of Padua for the part dedicated to Gruppo N and the school of psychology of perception, the exhibition ranges from painting, philosophy, science, sculpture, photography, cinema, technology: the choice to follow a thematic rather than a chronological trend allows to highlight, in each room, the points of contact and the similarities between different eras, the mutual influences between distant worlds, the affinities who have united philosophers, scientists, and artists.

The first part of the exhibition explores the relationship between colour, perception and movement. We begin with the representation of Cosmos between the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance through the use of two cardinal elements: colour and the circle. Here then are concentric circles of different colours, celestial maps, maps of heaven with the zodiac, maps of space and instruments such as the armillary spheres, symbol of the relationship between science and nature embodied by Galileo.

Not surprisingly, the iris – the eye as the protagonist of this exhibition – is also identified with the sphere. The sphere has always represented the “first form” that has united men and knowledge even very distant in time, and that is why, in the exhibition path, it is possible to find armillary spheres and works by artists such as Konrad Pucher or Tomas Saraceno, Dante’s circles and those by Klee.

The second nucleus of the exhibition is dedicated to the studies, between the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, on a new idea and theory of colour and movement that will have extensive development in the 1900s thanks to the birth of new media such as photography and cinema. Colour, in fact, occupies a border area between arts and sciences, physics and psychologies: among the various texts analysing it, seminal is the work by Goethe who, with his Theory of colours, will explore chromatic effects on the spectator, such as the “simultaneous contrasts”, obtained by observing a colour and then its complementary. Theories put into practice in George Seurat’s neo-impressionist and pointillist painting, or in a more esoteric dimension represented by Kandinsky, who will be a source of inspiration also for Rudolf Steiner and Paul Klee.

Capturing movement, creating its illusion, are two objectives to which the avant-gardes of the early 1900s will dedicate themselves through colour combinations, lines of force, decomposition and recomposition. Cubism, futurism, Russian avant-gardes, the optical-chromatic studies by Michel Chevreul and those of the Bauhaus: extraordinary works will be born, such as those by Giacomo Balla, Boccioni and Max Bill exhibited here, but also by Bruno Munari, Ettore Sottsass, Gio Ponti, without forgetting the group most linked to lyrical abstraction that had, in the Kandinskij of Le Nœud rouge, one of its greatest singers.

At the beginning of the 1900s, the theme of movement becomes central also thanks to the new-born art of photography (and, shortly thereafter, of cinema) and characterizes the first experiments with the new medium. The pioneering multiple photographs of Étienne-Jules Marey or Eadweard Muybridge are extraordinary examples, along with Hans Richter’s experimental cinema. And then the “optical machines”, such as Marcel Duchamp’s Rotative demisphère; movement in sculpture, with Alexander Calver, Bruno Munari, Jean Tinguely or Alberto Giacometti; or Picasso’s primitive movement of the Demoiselles d’Avignon, that seem to get out of the frame.

However, movement is not only in the work but also around it: with the refined anamorphoses, perspective distortions invented between the 16th and 17th centuries, for the first time art invites the viewer to take a non-frontal position. Movement, in this case, is that of the person with respect to the work, and the viewer becomes an active part of the perception process. So here, for example, are works with iridescent surfaces, such as mirror, the “place of the devil”, here taken up by artists such as Luigi Ontani or Anish Kapoor.

The 1960s are a laboratory for new horizons in the artwork: the monochrome is the culminating point of the spirit of the time and demonstrates how one colour alone can be enough to deceive the eye. We tend to overcome the concept of painting and surface. And it is in this perspective that the works by Dadamaino, a woman artist capable of moving space with her holes in the canvas, are placed, among others, aiming to obtain a perceptual variation, both optic and chromatic, thanks to the superimposition of different pierced surfaces that generate transparency and creates ambiguity effects.

The second part of the exhibition is a monograph that highlights the close link between science and art in the city of Galileo. It is entirely dedicated to the fertile correlation between the study of perception, which was developing in Padua university after the foundation of the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology in 1919, and the artistic activity of a collective of Paduan artists, operating in Padua between 1960 and 1964: Gruppo N.

In Padua, both psychologists and artists, in fact, obtained results of international importance in the same area: the exploration of perceptual phenomena. The research of scientists (Vittorio Benussi, Cesare Musatti, Fabio Metelli, Gaetano Kanizsa) had in fact such an impact as to go beyond academic boundaries to stimulate a cultural ferment which led, among other things, to the birth of Gruppo N: Alberto Biasi, Ennio Chiggio, Toni Costa, Edoardo Landi, Manfredo Massironi and, alongside them, Marina Apollonio investigated the vision using optical effects and gave life to the artistic trend that will be defined optical, or op. In addition to the individual works, the exhibition also reconstructs many of the “environments” that the collective set up for its exhibitions, thus allowing viewers to live the experience of immersing themselves in the works of Gruppo N and experiencing, first-hand, alienating, dizzying and astonishing effects.

Furthermore, the exhibition does not end inside Palazzo del Monte di Pietà but invades the city with five installations: a large 5-meter spiral by Marina Apollonio will find its place in the ancient courtyard of the Bo; the circular configuration, entrusted to the contrast of black and white, induces to perceive a space that simultaneously expands and contracts, arousing a slight sense of vertigo in the audience. Inside the Museum of the History of Medicine in Padua (MUSME), a work by Alberto Biasi entitled Tu sei will be set up, thanks to which the viewer will find himself in the presence of the colorful multiplication of his own shadow, becoming himself the protagonist of the artwork. Finally, in the scenic setting of the Botanical Garden of Padua, the optical illusions created by Edoardo Landi through three works will be the protagonists: Quadrato Cinevisuale and two Ipercubi virtuali.