Roman Opalka: Painting ∞

Roman Opalka

Dominique Lévy, New York

September 4 - October 18, 2014

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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 paintings of 1963 were on view in addition to all ten of Opalka’s Etudes sur le Mouvement, works on paper from 1959–60. This exhibition featured these with the artist’s Details for the first time in the United States.

In 1965, French-born Polish artist Roman Opalka picked up a delicate No. 0 brush in his Warsaw studio and placed the number “1” at the top-left corner of a canvas. This gesture began an enterprise later titled 1965 / 1 – ∞, that would consume the rest of the artist’s career in a determined but deliberately quixotic quest to paint every number to infinity. By the time of his death, Roman Opalka had painted more than five million numerals on 233 canvases and made unblinking photographs of his face each day in front of the work. The artist’s numbers increased as his body deteriorated, and, together, this inverse phenomena yielded an unstinting visual diary of one man’s mortal conundrum. Viewing that diary reveals the philosophical daring behind Opalka’s discipline, the poignancy in his search for the sublime within the methodology of his counting. Today, Roman Opalka’s 1965 / 1 – ∞ remains one of modern art’s most powerful and poetic inquiries into the mutability of time and the spirit’s response to it.