Lot 55
  • 55

Roman Opalka

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
494,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Roman Opalka
  • 1965/1-∞, detail 2,389,630 - 2,409,346
  • signed and titled on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas


John Weber Gallery, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1977

Catalogue Note

Roman Opalka’s conceptual journey is without precedent within twentieth-century art history: with his mission to paint every single number between one and infinity on a series of canvases – or ‘Details’ – the artist strove to give expression to the Infinite. This truly monumental task resulted in the creation of a series of works endowed with an elegant simplicity that reflect the highly philosophical and meditative character of the project, through which the nature of infinity itself is questioned. Executed throughout his lifetime, examples of this extraordinary endeavour are today preserved in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The National Gallery, Berlin; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Japan: an indication of the deep respect felt amongst the international artistic community for Opalka’s utterly unique mission. 1965/1-∞, detail 2,389,630 – 2,409,346 forms an integral part of this compelling aesthetic statement, an artistic quest which endured for a remarkable forty-six years, resulting in two hundred and thirty three ‘Details’ or canvases and concluding only with Opalka’s death in 2011.

Opalka began his astonishing magnum opus in 1965, when he commenced painting the numbers one through to infinity on a series of canvases, a task the artist referred to as “a philosophical and spiritual image of the progression of time and of life and death” (Roman Opalka quoted in: The Telegraph, Obituary, 26th August 2011, online resource). The numbers on each canvas progressed in horizontal rows from the upper left and concluded at the lower right corner, with each successive painting beginning where the previous one left off. As the integers mounted up their chromatic intensity periodically waned as Opalka's brush was depleted of paint before being replenished once again to inscribe initially brighter numbers. The works are each labelled 1965/1-, Detail followed by the first and last number on the canvas, marking the year Opalka began his enterprise and, by signifying one to infinity, implicating the purely hypothetical nature of the Infinite. As a concept we are unable to truly imagine, Opalka succeeded in visualising the Infinite in the purest sense possible, through numerical delineations marking the inexorable passage of time. Although attaining infinity is a theoretical impossibility, Opalka’s painstaking attempt to transcribe every possible number that ever has - or shall - exist was epic in scope: a task that serves to broaden the mind and expand the mental horizons of all who contemplate the result.

On attaining the milestone of a million painted digits in 1972, Opalka began photographing himself before each work: these portraits, which documented his own inexorable process of ageing, became the means by which his ambitions of interminability were 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,’ the increasing whiteness of the paint being intended to signify the infinity that his numbers could never, ultimately, denote. Towards the end of this endeavour, in 2008, the canvases had become entirely white, rendering the on-going stream of numerals near invisible. Opalka’s astounding corpus compresses concepts of time and space into a single defined moment, an idea the artist discussed with reference to the very beginning of his project: “In my concept… the always finished part of my oeuvre dates from 1965: the sign 1, laid on the first Detail, there is already all” (Roman Opalka, quoted in: Christine Savinel, Jacques Roubaud and Bernard Noël, Eds., Roman Opalka, Paris 1996, p. 17). Within Opalka’s entire oeuvre, 1965/1-∞, detail 2,389,630 – 2,409,346 stands as an impressive record of the artist’s astonishing philosophical and creative feat: a unique and unsurpassed record of a constant striving towards the infinite, and correspondingly, of immortality itself.