Listening to Art, by William Denton.
Volume two, number three: Current by Bridget Riley
Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.
Bridget Riley is a British artist, born in London, England in 1931. She is associated with “op art,” which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a style of abstract art in which geometrical patterns and bold colour contrasts are used to emphasize the optical relationship of the viewer with the work.” It notes, “The movement came to prominence in New York in the mid 1960s, and involved such practitioners as Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely.”
Current was painted in 1964 and shown in early 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, in a show titled “The Responsive Eye,” curated by William Seitz.
Soon after that, Riley wrote a short essay titled “Perception Is the Medium.” It is reprinted in The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley, Collected Writings 1965–2009, edited by Robert Kudielka, from which I quote (p. 89):
The American scene has an impressive reputation in Europe, and we hold the achievement of many American artists in high respect. When I paid my first visit to the USA last March I felt confident that my work, whether liked or not, would be judged with both insight and discrimination. I left three weeks later with feelings of violation and disillusionment, relieved only by the enormous warmth with which I was received by many individuals.
What had happened? I had had a number of conflicting experiences. My work had been hung in the Museum of Modern Art and vulgarised in the rag-trade. I had been involved in a sociological phenomenon with alarming implications, and one which was disquieting, also, to many Americans. The Responsive Eye was a serious exhibition, but its qualities were obscured by an explosion of commercialism, band-wagoning and hysterical sensationalism. Understandably, this alienated a section of the art-world. Most people were so busy taking sides, and arguing about what had or had not happened, that they could no longer see what was actually on the wall. Virtually nobody in the whole of New York was capable of the state of receptive participation which is essential to the experience of looking at pictures. Misunderstandings and mistaken assumptions took the place of considered and informed judgment.
This is a painting, synthetic polymer on composition board, 149.3 cm wide by 148.1 cm high.
Now let’s listen to Current by Bridget Riley, recorded at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, on 16 May 2017.
That was Current by Bridget Riley. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.
For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.
Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
All web sites accessed as of date of publication.
Museum of Modern Art. “Current.” Museum of Modern Art. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79998.
⸻. “The Responsive Eye.” Museum of Modern Art. https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2914.
Riley, Bridget. “Perception Is the Medium.” In The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley, Collected Writings 1965–2009, ed. Robert Kudielka. London: Thames and Hudson, 2009.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Bridget Riley,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridget_Riley.