ROMAN OPALKA (1931-2011)
ROMAN OPALKA (1931-2011)
ROMAN OPALKA (1931-2011)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
ROMAN OPALKA (1931-2011)

1965/1-∞ Détail 1085066 - 1108739

ROMAN OPALKA (1931-2011)
1965/1- Détail 1085066 - 1108739
inscribed 'OPALKA 1965/1-∞ DETAIL 1085066 - 1108739' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
77 1/4 x 53 1/8 in. (196 x 135 cm.)
Executed according to an artistic program conceived in 1965.
The artist
Galerie Isy Brachot, Paris
Private collection, Paris
Anon. sale; Artcurial, Paris, 7 December 2004, lot 373
Armand Bartos Fine Art & Antony Grant Inc, New York
Private collection, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2007
Paris, Glaerie Isy Brachot, OPALKA 1965/1 - , n.p., cat. no. 11 (illustrated).
Further details
This work will be included in the Roman Opalka Catalogue Raisonné established by Michel Baudson and to be published by Rainer Michel Mason, whom we would like to thank for the information provided.

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Lot Essay

An integral part of a conceptual tour de force, 1965/1-∞ Détail 1085066 - 11087 is a seminal moment in Roman Opalka’s life’s work. Beginning in 1965, the Polish artist began what he called his ‘programme’ and started to paint sequential numbers on potentially infinite canvases. Using the same style of brush and paint throughout, he built up a series of works that are all discrete pieces in the artist’s documentation of time during his life. Knowing that only when he died would the project cease, he confirmed this as part of the overarching plan and noted, “If I die today, this list of numbers, which, because it is infinite, has no time limit except for the span of my own life, will come to a logical conclusion through its very completion” (R. Opalka, quoted in J. Roubaud, “Le nombre d’Opalka”, Roman Opalka, Paris, 1996, p. 34). The work itself continued to expand until 2011 when Opalka passed away, cementing it as one of the longest process-based conceptual works ever undertaken.

Exhibiting a meditative level of asceticism, Opalka’s canvases are a study of longevity and focus. Painting with zinc white on canvases roughly the size of himself with his arms spread, the artist used a small brush so that seen from a distance, works like the current example begin to coalesce into a mottled sea of static. From 1972 onward, the painter introduced a minute amount of titanium white into the black background with each subsequent work in a quest to reach a state of ‘absolute white’. Canvases from later in his life are snowy fields where digits are barely discernible until looked at up close. This trend toward equilibrium intensifies the gravity of Opalka’s project while also lending the audience a key as to which era they might be viewing in the current detail.

Opalka’s fascination with time and its march forward began when he was a small child. Coming to terms with the concept of infinite time, or the absence of such a concept, would seem inaccessible to someone so young, but the artist explained: “When I was five or six, I had to stay by myself in the tiny room that served as our house all day long…. I would stare at the clock on the wall. I was fascinated by the movement of the pendulum. Even though it was repetitive, it was the only thing that broke up the heavy atmosphere around me. Then one day, I was watching the clock like I always did when the pendulum suddenly stopped dead. As a child, my immediate thought was that I had succeeded in stopping time through my gaze alone” (C. Desprats-Péquignot, “Roman Opalka : une vie en peinture suivi de Création et trauma,” Paris, 1998, p. 77). Harnessing such a universal constant, if even for a moment in his youth, proved to be completely captivating for Opalka and lead to the realization of the immense project from which the current example hails. Similar in scope to the Date Paintings of On Kawara, both artists use the perceived neutrality of monochromatic text to map out the very human concept of life and its beginning, middle, and end.

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