Carlos Cruz-Diez

A pioneer of kinetic art – Carlos Cruz-Diez dies aged 95

A pioneer of kinetic and optical art, the great Carlos Cruz-Diez has died at the grand age of 95.

Cruz-Diez returned to Venezuela and immediately began to experiment with optical illusions using colour and line.

His dizzying displays of geometric shapes shocked the world. Internationally acclaimed for his abstract works, the Venezuelan artist has left behind a long-lasting legacy.

Announced by his foundation, Carlos Cruz-Diez passed on the 27th July 2019 in the city of Paris.

Born in Caracas on August 17th, 1923. Carlos Cruz-Diez studied at Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Aplicadas. It was here, in 1945, that he met Soto and Alejandro Otero a grouping which would inevitably lead Venezuelan post-war art.

After graduating, Cruz-Diez made success as an illustrator. In 1946, he was named the creative director of the advertising agency McCann-Erickson.

He then travelled to New York where he had his first solo show, a collection of his works created in gouache.

Discovering Kineticism

In 1955, he saw the Op Art exhibition at the Galerie Denise René. He claimed he did not know that his friend Soto was doing Kinetic work. Kineticism, he saw, represented a new fresh way of creating art away from the restraints of traditional painting.

“That opened my eyes. Painting in Paris in those days was dead. I saw a huge room of paintings at the Salon de Mai and thought these must all have been painted by the same artist. They all looked the same. Abstraction had become the academy.”

Cruz-Diez returned to Venezuela and immediately began to experiment with optical illusions using colour and line.

The artists then moved to Paris permanently in the 1960s.

The Responsive Eye

Cruz-Diez rose to prominence after his work in the foundational exhibition “The Responsive Eye” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1965. The exhibition was considered a landmark exhibition for its challenging perspectives in abstract art.

The exhibition included a variety of works by a selection of artists which included Robert Irwin, Bridget Riley and Frank Stella, to name a few. Cruz-Diez had only one work at the show ‘Physichromie Number 116’ an interesting work made of painted plastic strips glued onto cardboard. For longevity, his art was transformed through the use of aluminium.

Critics of the time were left confused and unimpressed by the exhibition. However, it may have been a curating error rather than art with many claiming that the artists all had different styles and showed no similarities to each other.

Abstraction is a difficult umbrella to fall under with many artists showing slight abstraction in their detail but remaining to depict a fairly recognisable form.

However, this could also include extreme forms of abstraction such as the work of the Abstract Expressionists. Mark Rothko famously depicted rectangles in a variety of colours and shades with no real form for you to work out.

Experimentation on a larger canvas

Cruz-Diez’s work doesn’t fall into the usual category of if you squint you may make out a face in an artwork. His works instead use strips of different colours to create a form of art that hypnotises and appears to move if you stare too hard.

This was exactly Cruz-Diez’s intentions with the art in which he claimed “What I tried to create is a dialectical relationship between the viewer and the work. With the kind of art that I [make], you see a situation—an instant. It constantly changes because light constantly changes.”

In 1967, the artist was awarded the international painting prize at the 9th Bienal de São Paulo. Venezuelan art and architecture were thrown into a Kinetic world in which art relied on movement.

Cruz-Diez wowed in the unveiling of his incredible flooring of the Venezuelan airport in the 1970s. After this, he began completing public commissions. The ‘Plafond Physichromie’ (1980) was placed proudly outside of the Paris railway station ‘Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. He even repainted an old 760-tonne Mersey Pilot ship for the Liverpool Biennial, to mark the centenary of World War One.

His popularity did nothing but grow over the years with a number of his artworks featured in the collections of some of the world’s leading museums and galleries.

Carlos Cruz-Diez left his mark in the Tate Modern, Museum of Modern Art and if you ever happen to be crossing the road whilst heading to the Broad Museum you may be greeted by a rather cheerful zebra crossing.

However, Cruz-Diez’s works can not be written off as just historical landmarks as they have lasting legacies in the investigations of colour and line in art.

Their optical illusions have inspired countless other artists. Cruz-Diez managed successfully to contain his colours in space in order to create a physical void. He held his lines in a regimented order to create artwork that is void of all symbolism and implied meaning and instead provided visitors with an experience.