From the Op Art Movement of the 20th century to more recent optical illusion art that takes a spiritual approach, an exhibition at the Cafesjian Art Trust may have you doing a double take, with art works that trick the eye.
A little over a year after its grand opening, CAT continues to shine a luminous sparkle to Shoreview, a northwest suburb of St. Paul. Established by the family of Gerard Cafesjian — an entrepreneur and lover of contemporary art, particularly glass art — the museum’s “Fooling the Eye: Optics of Vasarely and Kuhn” dazzles with shimmering light and eye-popping designs.
The show features mainly two artists — one being the Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely (1906 -1997), regarded by many as the founder of the Optical Art movement. His geometric works blend science and art by fooling the viewer through optical illusions. In one case, the museum has marked the floor with tape, to save people from accidentally walking into one of the mind-bending paintings.
He’s paired with artist Jon Kuhn (born in 1949), who similarly explores optical illusions as a means to ponder the human condition. Kuhn’s works are like miniature glass monuments.
“What I’m hoping to do with this show is talk to people about how our brain thinks, and how we see things,” says Andy Schlauch, CAT’s executive director. Exhibited together, the artists’ methods of playing with depth perception, atmospheric perception and linear perspective play out throughout the show.
Made of both two- and three-dimensional works, the exhibition is marked by on the one hand bright, primary colors, and on the other, glass that reveals colors enfolded within its depths. With all of the dynamic angles at play, the bouncing prismed light and playful shadows, the room has a feeling of movement, and also wonder.
Schlauch tells me he first suggested the idea of pairing the two artists together back when he was being interviewed for his current position, in part because both artists engage with the interplay between science and aesthetics.
“Vasarely was using math and science and psychology. And I think to a degree that’s also what Kuhn does,” Schlauch says. “His work requires so much attention to precision in order to achieve what he’s looking to have in the final piece.”
Prior to becoming executive director at CAT, Schlauch directed the Chihuly Collection and Morean Glass Studio, where he worked closely with the collection of the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly. While at that job, Schlauch first encountered Kuhn’s work through the Hawk Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, which collects both artists.
“That was my first introduction to Jon’s work,” he recalls. “I was just blown away. It sets itself apart from so many of the other artists that I see.”
While Kuhn began as a glass blower, he eventually moved into a technique that instead involves a lot of glue. The special epoxy he uses actually becomes like glass chemically as it bonds.
He then incorporates things like foils and laminates to layer on to some of the internal components of the glass, in order to create certain light effects. If you look very carefully, you notice the almost imperceptible glass seams.
In the exhibition, you’ll also find collaborative works Kuhn created with artist Paul Joseph Stankard. “He’s probably one of the best flame workers in the glass art world,” Schlauch says.
Originally trained as an industrial glassblowing, with a focus on scientific glass like beakers and graduated cylinders, Stankard eventually gravitated toward flame working. The collaborative pieces between Stankard and Kuhn feature Stankard life-like botanicals held within Kuhn’s larger glass sculptures.
The museum also features a small display of Stankard’s work alone, in an area visitors pass by before arriving at the main gallery. His pieces display incredible detail, evoking floral worlds encased in glass. CAT places these intricate works on a glass case, with a mirror below them. Looking under the mirror, you see human figures emerging from the roots.
You can see all of this, as well as the museum’s permanent works on display — including several works by Chihuly both indoors and outdoors, and its beautiful library of art books at the museum’s upcoming opening reception. It takes place Friday, Nov. 17, with a VIP experience beginning at 5:30 p.m. ($75) and the main reception taking place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ($40). Otherwise you can make an appointment to visit the exhibition before it closes May 4, 2024. More information here.