In the wake of Victor Vasarely’s art and spirit

Exclusive interview with his grandson

In the middle of February Pierre Vasarely, president of the Vasarely Foundation based in Aix-en-Provence and Victor Vasarely’s sole heir, paid a brief visit to Budapest to open the exhibition Parisian Cube at the Abigail Gallery and Auction House. The curators of the exhibition asked him to introduce the artists following in his grandfather’s footsteps. MúzeumCafé also spoke to him about the master’s intellectual heritage. I know from what my grandparents and father told me that my grandfather had a very strong bond with Hungary. He spoke Hungarian at home with his children, my father and uncle. Unfortunately I did not learn this beautiful language except for the names of some foods like ‘körözött’ or ‘kolbász’. My grandfather was a pupil of Sándor Bortnyik in the Workshop free school, which operated in line with the principles of the Berlin Bauhaus. In the early years my grandparents were in contact mainly with Hungarian emigrants and a sort of ‘salon’ functioned in their apartment. That was partly due to language since at that time they didn’t speak French well. However, being in touch with Hungarians was something important for everyone. Later, as they each began finding their own feet those occasions became less frequent. They definitely kept in touch with André Kertész and the Hungarians living in Paris, but not those who emigrated to Germany or America. The fact that they worked on similar artistic problems in parallel with, for example, Kepes was rather due to their common beginnings in Budapest and the affect the Bortnyik-Kassák intellectual circle had on them. My grandfather was an extremely absorbed and deeply thinking artist. He would say that thinking took up 99 per cent of his time and only one per cent was left for implementation. If he corresponded – and at the beginning of the 1930s he must have done – with other artists, friends and acquaintances in Budapest the letters may have either been lost, or I think the contacts are more likely to have come to an end, because my grandfather rather regretted the time involved, which took him away from creative work. The Vasarely Foundation was set up by my grandfather and his wife with the intention of making his artistic concepts known across the world. In the beginning his works were exhibited in Gordes, a village in Provence. My grandfather had the village’s derelict mansion restored and in return he was able to set up his ‘Didactic Museum’ there. It exhibited his works from the earliest, graphic works made in the Workshop, to those created in the 1960s. It was a museum which helped with research into the connection between contemporary art and architecture for some twenty years, operating even up to 1996. Following the foundation of the Gordes Museum, when my grandfather was an internationally prominent artist he decided to set up a larger centre based on Bauhaus principles where he would bring together urbanists, artists and architects. He didn’t intend to establish a ‘mausoleum’ for himself, but focussed entirely on the future, new technologies, development, IT and the sciences. He devoted the Vasarely Centre, which was dreamt up in the middle of the 1960s, to continuous research where architects, urban planners and sculptors thinking similarly to him had the opportunity to experiment in order to make plans, together with sociologists and psychologists, for an ideal ‘diverse city’. When after some years the idea crystallized he bought some land in Aix-en-Provence. The town didn’t simply passively accept the technical innovations but itself encouraged them. The museum consisting of sixteen enormous hexagons was designed by Vasarely himself and construction began in 1973. The ground floor areas with an interior height of eleven metres accommodate exhibitions, while architects’ and design offices are housed upstairs. The spirituality started by Vasarely has surprisingly many followers in contemporary art. Think of kinetics, geometric abstraction or the work of artists creating with various mechanical or digital means who carry on Vasarely’s pioneering activity with the help of new technologies. In the pre-computer age implementation required incredibly high precision, deep thinking and much time. Today young artists have the opportunity to present themselves at our exhibitions and an exchange of opinions can be conducted during the accompanying conferences. The Vasarely Centre is unique in the world, which undoubtedly contributes to the high number of visitors. Our exhibitions show young people’s attempts, and I wouldn’t rule it out that with time we will also collect geometric abstract works or those created in the various optical arts by contemporary artists. Our historic role is to preserve and display Victor Vasarely’s works in an easily understandable form, which also includes the analysis of his writings. We keep a watchful eye on my grandfather’s works across the world, as well as the museums possessing large collections and the Vasarely Centres, since besides Aix-en-Provence similar centres function in New York and Oslo. In Hungary, there is a Vasarely Museum in Pécs and another in Budapest belonging of the Museum of Fine Arts.