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Roman Opalka (1931-2011)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE MATTHYS-COLLE COLLECTION
Roman Opalka (1931-2011)

1965/1-8 Detail 1330516 - 1348651

Details
Roman Opalka (1931-2011)
1965/1-8 Detail 1330516 - 1348651
signed and titled 'OPALKA 1965/1-8 DETAIL-1330516-1348651' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
77 1/8 x 53 1/8in. (196 x 135cm.)
Conceived in 1965
Provenance
John Weber Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in November 1974.
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.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

Acquired in 1974, the present work stems from the revolutionary early years of Roman Opalka’s lifelong mission: to paint, by hand, the numbers from one to infinity. Begun in 1965, and pursued until the day of his death, this extraordinary project gave rise to one of the twentieth century’s most profoundly existential bodies of work. Across successive canvases, or ‘details’ – each the size of his studio door in Warsaw – Opalka carefully inscribed his digits in white paint, starting in the top left corner and working his way to the bottom right in horizontal rows. From a distance, these works confront the viewer like shimmering abstract constellations, only revealing their obsessive numerical rigour upon close inspection. From 1972 onwards, the artist would begin adding one percent more white to his base coat, eagerly awaiting the day on which he would paint his first white-on-white canvas. Opalka estimated that by this stage he would have reached the number 7,777,777, yet tragically never lived to experience it: the last number he painted was 5,607,249 on 6 August 2011. By imposing strict limits upon his creative process, the artist hoped to lay himself bare to the invisible machinations of the universe. Naturally-occurring errors within the series were embraced as revelations: glimpses of the unknowable forces that underpin every aspect of our being. The present work takes its place at the dawn of an oeuvre that, for the next four decades, would devote itself to contemplating the mysteries of existence.

The first decade of Opalka’s project saw him embellish his approach through a number of means. From 1968 onwards, he began to record himself speaking the numbers aloud as he painted, thereby creating an audible trace of his method. He also started taking passport-style photographs of himself before and after each day’s work, charting the physical signs of aging upon his visage. ‘I took my body, my length, my existence as I have often said, as a sort of pictorial sacrifice’, he explained (R. Opalka, interview for 3 France, 1994). Like On Kawara’s Date Paintings, initiated in 1966, Opalka’s works aspired to the condition of records, insisting upon the unshakeable truth of temporal progress. At the same time, they were rife with contradictions: they were repetitive yet unique, clearly defined yet ultimately indefinite. For Opalka, these dualities affirmed the overarching purpose of his art – namely, to reveal that the seemingly chaotic flux of life and death was in fact subservient to an inevitable logic. While many other artists in the post-war period had responded to the notion of infinity – as demonstrated by the transcendental philosophies of Abstract Expressionism, the blue monochromes of Yves Klein or the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana – Opalka proposed that it was merely a point that we could count our way towards. His paintings, as such, take on an almost spiritual dimension: expressions of faith, peace and order in the face of the unknown.

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