Bridget Riley’s Galaxies of Uncanny Form

A new Morgan Library & Museum show illuminates the English abstract painter’s Op Art masterpieces.

“Final Study for Halcyon [Repaint]” (1971) by Bridget Riley. Image courtesy of Bridget Riley, collection of the artist

The Op Art masterpieces Bridget Riley made in the 1960s—and even their polychronic updates in the ‘80s—remain so eerily accomplished they might seem sui generis, like ancient machines from the future designed to massage your eyes. They’re not, of course; her paintings glisten with personality, even at their coldest. And while her vertiginous fields of tonal interplay might not exactly be figurative, their histories figure into the history of Riley herself, and thus into the history of 20th-century art. 

A new show at the Morgan Library & Museum fills all this in. “Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio” (June 23–Oct. 8) gathers some 75 studies the artist made from the 1940s through the 2000s. The chance to follow Riley’s hand as it goes off the grid of her graphic paper and into eternity reminds us that her minimalism was psychedelic, while her early investigations of the strategies of Seurat illuminates how his landscapes of dots became her galaxies of uncanny form—all with a touch of her hand.

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