The Aesthetic Machine
Mechanics and Optics in Art - An Exhibition

During Armory Week in New York, the Contemporary Art Department at Bonhams will present an exhibition of Op Art featuring highlights from three West Coast sales: 'Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want' (Los Angeles), 'Made in California' (Los Angeles), and 'Prints & Multiples' (San Francisco).

Titled The Aesthetic Machine: Mechanics and Optics in Art, the exhibition will present works by some of the movement's foremost names, including Abraham Palatnik, Almir da Silva Mavignier, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Frank Stella, and Karl Benjamin. All were artists who participated in the seminal Op Art exhibitions of the 1960s: New Tendencies in Zagreb (1961) and The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1965).

Op Art sought to engage with the technology which played a crucial part in the development of the contemporary world in the 1960s. It was the decade in which television became ubiquitous, finding its way into 90 per cent of American homes, and exponents focused on the science of perception, optics and pattern. The movement the artworks generated symbolized the end of the analog age and the dawn of digital.

Op Art reflected the emerging technological world. In 1951, Brazilian artist Abraham Palatnik created his first Kinochromatic devices, machines which 'painted with light' to create color-driven abstractions. His first device was so revolutionary that the organizers of the Bienal de Sao Paulo exhibition in Brazil couldn't identify an appropriate category and so rejected the work from the competition section of the show. Bonhams has secured a rare example of these light-boxes (c. 1955), which is estimated at $150,000-250,000. A work in jacaranda wood by Palatnik, from a series called Progressions, will also be offered, and carries a pre-sale estimate of $100,000-150,000.

Almir Mavignier, a compatriot of Palatnik, created paintings which combined a geometric dot pattern and color grounds to create surfaces of a pixilated optical vibration. A work by Mavignier, titled Durchdringung grün auf blau (Penetration of green to blue), from 1977 will be offered, and is estimated at $15,000–25,000.

While Op artists of the mid-20th century examined the relationship of technology and painting, their successors often created actual machines. Two Bay area artists, Jim Campbell and Alan Rath, will provide the 21st century counterpoint here. Campbell reverses the role of technology in Untitled (Street Scene) (2006), an ultra-low-resolution videos of shadowy figures which move across a grid of LED lights. It is estimated at $25,000–35,000. Alan Rath, meanwhile, creates sculptures made from custom electronics and self-written software in Scanner VI (2003), which is estimated at $6,000–8,000. The programs are non-repetitive, slowly changing digital performances which modify their 'behavior' over years or even decades.

Dane Jensen, Director of Contemporary Art at Bonhams Los Angeles, said: 'With recent exhibitions touching upon Op Art at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City and the Zero exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, the Op Art movement is once again being critically re-examined. The work from this period presents some of the most dynamic interpretations of the fusion of technology and art, and we are proud to exhibit and offer these works in our upcoming Spring sales.'

The preview will be on view 3-8 March from 10am to 5pm.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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