Roman Opalka 

“All my work is a single thing, the description from one to infinity. A single thing, a single life.”

Roman Opalka

​​In 1965, the Franco-Polish artist Roman Opalka (1931–2011) embarked on the task to catalogue infinity, developing a philosophical painting practice that touched on performance, concrete poetry, and conceptual art. Beginning with the number one, he painted succeeding numbers in horizontal rows on canvases measured to the dimensions of his studio door in Warsaw. Each subsequent painting resumed where the last left off. Over four decades, his 1965/1 – ∞ project grew to comprise 233 paintings known as Details; the final number was 5,607,249. In 1968, Opalka began speaking each number into a tape recorder before he painted it and photographing himself in front of the canvas after a day of work. In 1972, he began gradually lightening his canvases from black by adding one percent of white paint to each ensuing background. By the time he reached the number 7,777,777 (a “horizon of sevens”) he planned to be painting white on white, such that his numbers would disappear into the ground. He arrived at the white canvas in 2008, calling it “blanc mérité” (white well earned).

Born to Polish émigrés in Hocquincourt, France, Opalka was raised in Poland until his family was deported during the Second World War. He attended the School of Art and Design in Lódź (1949) and the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (1956). Opalka began experimenting with abstract and monochrome paintings, which he called Chronomes (1959–63) as well as works on paper, Etudes sur le Mouvement (Movement Studies, 1959–60), both of which he saw as his “first attempts at grasping time.” He moved to rural France in 1977, establishing a studio in Teillé. Opalka’s work has been the subject of retrospectives and solo exhibitions worldwide since the early 1970s. He participated in Documenta, Kassel (1977), São Paulo Bienal (1987), and the Venice Biennale (1995, 2003). His work resides in the collections of such institutions as Centre Pompidou, Paris; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Kunsthalle Hamburg; Nationalgalerie, Berlin; and Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. In 2009, Opalka was awarded the Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France as well as the Gloria Artis Gold Medal for Merit to Culture in Poland.


    • Roman Opalka: Painting ∞
    • Dominique Lévy, New York
      September 4 - October 18, 2014
    • Roman Opalka: Painting ∞ (2014) provided an overview of Opalka’s career, representing his oeuvre as a metaphor for human existence and an expression of the artist’s vitality and passion in the face of unstoppable finality. The exhibition at Dominique Lévy presented a key group of paintings (each titled Détails) from 1965/1–∞, complemented by a selection of the artist’s related Self-Portrait photographs and audio recordings in which Opalka intones, in his native Polish, the numbers he is painting. The exhibition presented antecedents to 1965/1–∞. Two rare Chronome paint...

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Selected Artworks

    • Roman Opalka
    • Opalka 1965/1 – ∞, Détail 1378724 – 1398917, 1965
    • Acrylic on canvas
    • 77³⁄₁₆ × 53⅛ inches (196 × 135 cm)
    • Roman Opalka
    • OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞ Détail - Photo 2787231, 1965
    • Gelatin silver print
    • 12 × 9⁷⁄₁₆ inches (30.5 × 24 cm)
    • Roman Opalka
    • Chronome IV, 1963
    • Tempera on canvas
    • 28¹⁵⁄₁₆ × 24 inches (73.5 × 61 cm)
    • Roman Opalka
    • OPALKA 1965/1 – ∞ Détail – Photo 5489936, 1965
    • Gelatin silver print
    • 9⁷⁄₁₆ × 12 inches (24 × 30.5 cm)

Selected Press