PROPERTY FROM THE SAMMLUNG LENZ SCHÖNBERG
Anna and Gerhard Lenz with Ulrike Bleicker-Honisch, Epoche Zero. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Leben in Kunst, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2009, p. 425, no. OP-16 (i), illustrated in colour and Vol II, p. 211, no. OP-17 (ii) and OP-18 (iii)
Well over forty years have passed since Roman Opalka decided to dedicate the rest of his life to recording the numbers one to infinity on canvas. Of this remarkable endeavour, which is today preserved in the collections of the Musuem of Modern Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The National Gallery, Berlin, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Japan, Opalka 1965/1 – ∞, Detail 5006016 - 5023628, Opalka 1965/1 – ∞, Detail 5023629 - 5049738, and Opalka 1965/1 – ∞, Detail 5049739 - 5065512 are the only three consecutive paintings by the artist ever to be offered at auction. A fourth work, entitled Opalka 1965/1 - ∞, Detail 2865928-2869122 - Reisekarte, which Opalka completed while travelling, is a testament to the artist's fervent dedication to this insurmountable undertaking.
Since 1965 Opalka has conceived his oeuvre as a single, continuous work, with the numbers on each canvas recorded in horizontal rows from the upper left and concluding at the lower right corner, and each successive painting beginning where the previous one left off. As the integers progress their chromatic intensity periodically wanes as Opalka's brush is depleted of paint before it is replenished to scribe initially brighter numbers. The repetition of this process leads to a very beautiful disposition of tone across the composition, while also recording the artist's physically intense act. The works are each labelled 1965/1 – ∞, Detail followed by the first and last number on the canvas, thereby marking the calendar year Opalka began his enterprise and, by signifying one to infinity, implicating the purely hypothetical nature of the Infinite. The artist's ambition is to reflect human consciousness in the way that it comprises, at each moment, the sum of all moments before. Experience and time are embedded in the core of these awe-inspiring works, which simultaneously bear witness to Opalka's concept, performance, and abstraction.
Opalka's canvases are all uniform in size based on the precise dimensions of the door to his former studio in Warsaw. In 1972 he introduced a tape recorder, and since then has spoken each number in Polish as he paints it. Also in that year Opalka began photographing himself before the canvas after each day's work. These portraits, which document his own process of aging, become the means by which his ambitions of interminability are confronted by the inevitability of his own mortality. Although Opalka began by painting white numbers on a black background, in 1968 he changed to a grey background, a colour he believed to be more neutral, and in the early 1970s he decided to add one percent more white to this grey ground with each new 'Detail'. By the time Opalka reaches 7 777 777, he expects to be painting in virtually white on white. The white of the paint will signify the infinity that his numbers can never denote. The faintly visible brush marks on the surfaces of these three extraordinary paintings capture a fleeting moment before ground and figure one day become indistinguishable. Eventually Opalka's voice will be the only discernible witness to his project. Complex and profoundly subtle, these 'Details' are transcendent testimony to an artist's persistent will to inscribe time against the oblivion of infinitude.
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