SO WHY OP NOW? Some forty years after the Museum of Modern Art, New York, introduced Op art to the American public with its landmark 1965 exhibition “The Responsive Eye,” two museums have mounted historical shows looking back: “Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s” at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio (through June 17); and “Op Art” at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (through May 20). Both are ambitious curatorial efforts, distinct in certain relative emphases, and for that very reason providing in tandem an unusually rich perspective on a movement consigned by pretty much everyone to the dustbin of art history. Yet such impressive attentiveness only serves to raise the stakes with respect to the question, Why should we be looking at this midcentury anachronism again? What are we supposed to learn? The cynic no doubt wonders whether all those museum curators, academics, and artists who have been mining the ’60s for good material finally found the well dried up—meaning, Op is all that’s left to “rediscover.”
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