Until March 27, the windows of London’s Selfridges will frame a hypnotic, eye-bending display of optical illusions, all of them the creations of Victor Vasarely. Inside the luxury emporium, the op-art pioneer is being feted in Universe, a presentation of 55 of his geometric abstractions, some appearing in the UK for the first time in half a century. And in a sign of Vasarely’s ongoing resonance, the show also arrays Paco Rabanne’s Spring/Summer 2022 collection, which took direct inspiration from the French artist’s use of colors and patterns. 

The product of a three-way collaboration between Selfridges, Paco Rabanne, and Vasarely Foundation, Universe marks the first time that Vasarely has been exhibited in a department store. Suitably for a retail environment, 15 of the artist’s works are available for sale (as are Paco Rabanne’s wares), alongside 12 NFTs specially minted by the foundation. Six dropped yesterday, with another six scheduled for a March 12 release; all can be purchased over-the-counter at Selfridges or on Substance.

Representing Vasarely Foundation’s NFT debut, these tokens are billed as adding a new dimension to Vasarely’s already-prismatic motifs, but also, will aid and serve as a medium for the institution’s preservation efforts.

Vasarely x Paco Rabanne x Selfridges London

Universe at Selfridges London, featuring Vasarely’s canvases and sculptures, and Paco Rabanne’s Spring/Summer 2022 collection. Image: Lewis Ronald / Selfridges

Opened in 1976, the Vasarely Foundation was realized according to the artist’s precise specifications and today, features 44 of his “integrations,” massive installations for which Vasarely deployed a variety of materials to produce kinetic visual play. Over the years, some of this work has deteriorated, if not been damaged, necessitating repair. As Ugo Vasarely, Head of Operations at Vasarely Foundation, put it, “We constantly need to find new ways to raise funds so we can restore these monumental works.” 

The NFTs, then, won’t just generate proceeds to fund this endeavor; half of them are mints of the damaged pieces and, according to Ugo, will “show the evolution” of the future restoration, effectively illustrating their own point and purpose. Here’s Ugo with more on the collaborative exhibition, and how the foundation is leveraging both the NFT market and the versatility of the digital medium to support its mission.

Why is this collaboration with Paco Rabanne and Selfridges important to the Vasarely Foundation?
It’s really important because Victor Vasarely’s thinking was always to bring art into all the dimensions of the city. Through this partnership, we have been able to highlight Vasarely’s role in inspiring fashion, more specifically via the collaboration with Paco Rabanne for its Spring/Summer 2022 collection. This is the first time we have organized an exhibition in a retail store, so there were a lot of constraints and challenges, but it was really exciting and we are very proud of the results.

Vasarely x Paco Rabanne x Selfridges London

The exhibition also features 12 NFTs of Vasarely’s works, which can be purchased over-the-counter at Selfridges (making it the first department store to sell NFTs in person) or on the Substance platform. Image: Lewis Ronald / Selfridges

What was the process of installing the Vasarely exhibition at Selfridges?
Transporting the works from Aix-en-Provence to London was a massive undertaking. Everything went well, but even at the last minute, we had to change a couple of pieces to harmonize the selection. To install so many pieces in such a small space was quite a challenge, so that’s why the scaffolding was a really good idea. All of the other elements used by Vasarely and Paco Rabanne have been incorporated to highlight the ’60s and ’70s era of creativity. We really wanted to create a sensation of hugeness.

What was the motivation behind minting and selling NFTs of Vasarely’s works?
The idea behind this project was to help support the work of the Vasarely Foundation in Aix-en-Provence. We are a private institution, classified as an Historic Monument since 2013, and a “Musée de France” since 2020. We receive no funding from the government for our day-to-day operations. This sale is made in the only benefit of the foundation.

According to Ugo Vasarely, the minted works aim to capture the diversity of Vasarely’s practice and the full scope of his work from paintings to sculptures. Image: Selfridges / © Fondation Vasarely

How did the foundation go about selecting the works to be minted?
We decided to create two kinds of NFTs based on 12 of the 44 integrations at the foundation. Six of them have been already restored and the six others will show the evolution before their complete restoration. We also wanted to inject some diversity into the NFTs. We chose sculptures in anodized aluminum, works on glass, tapestries, painted cardboard, ceramics, [and so on]. We wanted to reflect the full scope of Vasarely’s work, highlighting their materials, colors and inspirations.

What do you think this digital medium adds to Vasarely’s legacy?
I think if Vasarely were alive today, he would have been one of the first artists to look into this medium. I’m not talking about the NFTs specifically; I just want to point out the technology itself. His aim was to make his art accessible to everyone. He always wanted to work with innovative and interesting materials — such as enameled lava from Volvic or Briare — and this new medium would certainly have interested him for its potential.

And what do you hope these NFTs might bring to the foundation?
They will bring a new dimension to our institution. The Vasarely Foundation was built to be a center not just for art, but for all the disciplines around it — architecture, urbanism, education, workshops, relationship with universities, research. NFTs will bring a new dimension and help develop into what Vasarely really wanted: a place for thoughts and ideas related to art.


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