ROMAN OPAŁKA (1931-2011)
ROMAN OPAŁKA (1931-2011)
ROMAN OPAŁKA (1931-2011)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more A CENTURY OF ART: THE GERALD FINEBERG COLLECTION
ROMAN OPAŁKA (1931-2011)

OPALKA 1965/1 -∞ Détail 2194426 - 2213198

ROMAN OPAŁKA (1931-2011)
OPALKA 1965/1 -∞ Détail 2194426 - 2213198
inscribed ‘OPALKA 1965/1-∞ DETAIL - 2194426 - 2213198' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
77 1/8 x 53 1/8in. (196 x 135cm.)
Executed according to an artistic programme conceived in 1965
The Artist.
John Weber Gallery, New York.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1977).
Private Collection, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
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.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Spanning almost two metres in height, the present work stems from one of the twentieth century’s longest and most extraordinary conceptual projects. In 1965, the Polish artist Roman Opałka set out on a mission: to paint, by hand, the numbers from one to infinity. Across successive canvases, known as ‘details’, he inscribed his digits in careful rows, working in white paint upon dark backgrounds. From a distance, these works resemble glimmering abstract constellations, only revealing their numeric logic up close. From 1972 onwards Opałka began to add tiny additional amounts of white into his background colour, awaiting the arrival of his first white-on-white canvas. The present work takes its place just over a third of the way through the cycle, which ended with the artist’s death in 2011.

Many artists throughout the twentieth century confronted the notion of infinity. On Kawara painted the day’s date; Alighiero Boetti grappled with the chaos of the universe. Yves Klein attempted to leap into the void, while Lucio Fontana pierced the picture plane to reveal the abyss beyond. Elsewhere, Yayoi Kusama produced her Infinity Nets: seemingly endless looping webs of paint forged through hour upon hour of obsessive painting. Opałka’s project—his ‘programme’, as he called it—may be seen within this context. He, however, went much further than any of his contemporaries. His quest for infinity consumed not just his art, but every fibre of his being. ‘I took my body, my length, my existence as I have often said, as a sort of pictorial sacrifice’, he explained (R. Opałka, interview for 3 France, 1994). In tandem with his paintings, the artist also recorded himself speaking the day’s date, as well as photographing himself before and after each day’s work. As the numbers increased, his own lifespan diminished: time marched its way across his canvases, and across his body.

Opałka’s ‘details’ are full of the same contradictions and revelations that define human existence. They are ordered and logical, yet also full of visual turmoil. They are repetitive, yet each is wholly unique. They are simultaneously predictable and unpredictable, punctuated with occasional instances of human error. They are perfect and imperfect; simple yet complex; abstract and yet rife with meaning. Opałka had estimated that his first white-on-white canvas would occur at the number 7,777,777. He never lived to see the day: his last number was 5,607,249. The end of the series—like death itself—was both random and inevitable. ‘If I die today,’ Opałka once said, ‘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’Opałka’, in Roman Opałka, Paris 1996, p. 34). Ultimately, for all its intricate dualities, the present work exudes a profound sense of serenity: of peace in the face of mortality, and acceptance in the face of the unknown.

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