Though the extent of kinetic art’s influence might be impressive (as illustrated in this fascinating exhibition with over thirty films), its grasp on ‘popular culture’ like advertisements, fashion and cinema should not come as a surprise however, as Op Art - a term that was coined in 1964 - resonated with the spirit of democratisation and freedom that ruled the 1960s.

Initially, it was a politicised avant-garde movement that wanted to destabilise perception through the use of optical illusions. It was looking for ways to escape the confines of the ‘white cube’ and even invited spectators to cut geometrical patterns and make art works themselves. By initially trying to get rid of mediators (institutions, galleries, art critics), the movement wanted to offer spectators direct access to the art works.

The visual appeal of its formal language with (moving) patterns, light effects and intoxicating and blurry lines, soon charmed and inspired fashion designers and even the choreographers of the Moulin Rouge. Not only experimental filmmakers from the nouvelle vague (new wave) embraced its visual language, but also mainstream directors. The popular French singer Gilbert Bécaud even made a clip in an Op Art background. Whereas filmmakers initially used existing optical and kinetic art works, they invited more and more artists to realise brand new pieces for their films and work in close collaboration for the set design, visual effects, etc.

The disorienting, alienating light and movement effects turned out to be extremely useful to express dream sequences or hallucinations. One of the best examples is probably the unfinished masterpiece L’Enfer (1964) by Henri-Georges Clouzot – its making could almost rival the inferno of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) – which is also used as the exhibition’s poster. In this film, a man thinks that his girlfriend – played by Romy Schneider – is cheating on him, leading to chilling scenes of paranoia expressed through various visual effects. Pure cinema, pure art!

Devil in the Flesh – When Op Art lives up Cinema, MAMAC Nice

Until September 29,