Roman Opalka

Roman Opalka

Roman Opałka was born on August 27, 1931, to Polish émigrés in Hocquincourt, northern France. He and his family returned to Poland in 1935, only to be deported to Germany after the Nazi invasion. After the country was liberated by the United States Army in 1945, they moved back to Poland, where the artist studied lithography before enrolling in the School of Art and Design in Łódź. Opałka later earned a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and began experimenting with abstract and monochrome paintings, which he called Chronomes (1959–63). In 1965, he began his 1965/1 – ∞ project, to which he would devote the majority of his life’s work.

1965/1 – ∞ was preceded by not only the Chronomes but also the series of works on paper, Etudes sur le Mouvement (Movement Studies, 1959–60), both of which Opałka saw as his “first attempts at grasping time.” 1965/1 – ∞ was structured as a more formal philosophical inquiry that would continue for over four decades until his death. The 233 paintings that resulted from this study are known as the Détails. By his death in 2011, he had written over five million numbers (over thirty-eight million digits); the final number written was 5,607,249. After embarking upon this endeavor, Opałka found himself physically and psychically affected by his efforts to catalogue limitlessness. He immersed himself in crucial philosophical, historical, and scientific concepts that attempt to delineate infinity and time. The artist then identified an accompanying system, the “horizon of sevens” (7 777 777), that he estimated as the human frontier of perception, articulating the units in operational time in science in visual form.

Opałka began a series of self-portrait photographs in 1968 that captured his likeness alongside the Détail paintings. In 1972, Opałka also started recording himself saying each number in Polish to signal to future viewers that he had painted every single one. Opałka moved to rural France in 1977, settling and establishing his studio in Teillé, near Le Mans. He obtained French citizenship in 1985.

Opałka began exhibiting in Poland in the mid-1960s, and by the early 1970s was represented in solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe and in Asia and Latin America. His first trip to the United States came in 1972, and his first US exhibition opened in 1974 at the John Weber Gallery, New York. In the following forty years, Opałka’s work has been shown in numerous gallery and museum exhibitions worldwide. His work has been the subject of retrospective exhibitions and writings in several languages, and he has participated in recurring international exhibitions such as Documenta (1977), São Paulo Bienal (1987), and the Venice Biennale (1995, 2003), have brought him global recognition. In 2009, he 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. Work by Opałka is held in major museum collections, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Kunsthalle Hamburg; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Nationalgalerie, Berlin; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

In fall 2014, Dominique Lévy Gallery presented Roman Opałka: Painting ∞, which provided a comprehensive overview of the artist’s career. The accompanying fully illustrated catalogue featured an essay by curator and historian Charles Wylie; an original poem by Jacques Roubaud; and a conversation between Marie-Madeleine Opalka, the artist’s widow, and François Barré—a former French Minister of Culture. In spring 2016, Dominique Lévy presented Roman Opałka: Passages in its London gallery.

Opałka died in Chieti, Italy, in August 2011. Dominique Lévy began representing the Estate of Roman Opałka in 2012, and since 2017 has continued to represent the Estate as Lévy Gorvy.

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Selected Works

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  • Roman Opałka. Painting: OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞, Detail 3029180-3047372.

    Roman Opałka.
    OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞, Detail 3029180-3047372.
    Acrylic on canvas,
    76 3/4 x 53 1/4 inches (194.9 x 135.3 cm).
    © 2019 Roman Opalka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
    Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

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  • Roman Opałka. Detail of painting: OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞, Detail 3029180-3047372.

    Roman Opałka.
    Detail of OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞, Detail 3029180-3047372.
    Acrylic on canvas,
    76 3/4 x 53 1/4 inches (194.9 x 135.3 cm).
    © 2019 Roman Opalka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
    Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

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  • Roman Opałka. Photograph titled OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞ Détail - Photo 2787231.

    Roman Opałka.
    OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞ Détail - Photo 2787231.
    Gelatin silver print,
    9 1/2 x 12 inches (24 x 30.5 cm).
    © 2019 Roman Opalka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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  • Roman Opałka. Photograph titled OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞ Détail - Photo 4398226

    Roman Opałka.
    OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞ Détail - Photo 4398226.
    Gelatin silver print,
    9 1/2 x 12 inches (24 x 30.5 cm).
    © 2019 Roman Opalka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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  • Roman Opałka. Photograph titled OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞ Détail - Photo 5409634.

    Roman Opałka.
    OPALKA 1965/1 - ∞ Détail - Photo 5409634.
    Gelatin silver print,
    9 1/2 x 12 inches (24 x 30.5 cm).
    © 2019 Roman Opalka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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  • Roman Opałka. Painting: OPALKA 1965/1 - ° Détail 4988006 - 5006015

    Roman Opałka.
    OPALKA 1965/1 - ° Détail 4988006 - 5006015.
    Acrylic on canvas,
    77 3/16 x 53 1/8 inches (196 x 135 cm).
    © 2019 Roman Opalka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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  • Roman Opałka. Detail of painting: OPALKA 1965/1 - ° Détail 4988006 - 5006015

    Roman Opałka.
    Detail of OPALKA 1965/1 - ° Détail 4988006 - 5006015.
    Acrylic on canvas,
    77 3/16 x 53 1/8 inches (196 x 135 cm).
    © 2019 Roman Opalka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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Exhibitions

Museum Exhibitions

Selected Press

The Conversation | With Roman Opalka, painting explores the passing of time "by hand"

January 26, 2020

The numbers from 1 to 5,607,249, painted by Roman Opalka for more than 40 years appear and follow each …

The New York Times | The Don’t-Miss Shows and Pavilions at the Venice Biennale

May 13, 2019

In 1965, this Polish artist began his “Détails,” one of the most obsessive yet emotional projects …

Art News | Reviews: New York

November 1, 2014

In 1965, the French-born Polish artist Roman Opalka (1931–2011) began his magisterial project 1965 …

Hyperallergic | Roman Opalka’s Numerical Destiny

October 6, 2014

In 1965, the French-born, Polish painter Roman Opalka came to an important decision. While sitting at …

The Culture Trip | Opalka’s Art and Life: Challenging the End of Time

October 3, 2014

French-born, Polish painter Roman Opalka was deeply concerned with the material capture of the intangible. …

art critical | Everything and Nothing At All: Roman Opalka Painting Infinity

September 22, 2014

Dominique Lévy supplies the back story to French-born Polish artist Roman Opalka with a show of works …

Artnet | David Ebony’s Top 10 New York Gallery Shows for September

September 22, 2014

1. Roman Opalka at Dominique Lévy, through October 18 “Roman Opalka: Painting ∞” is a rare US …

Artslant | Fade Into White: Roman Opalka's Infinity

September 22, 2014

The magnitude of entropy overcomes one who moves along the two floors of Dominique Lévy’s gallery, …

Art Observerd | New York- Roman Opalka: “Painting ∞” At Dominique Lévy Through October 18th, 2014

September 18, 2014

There’s any number of ways to approach Roman Opalka, whose work sits at the center of Dominique

TimeOut New York | The top five New York art shows this week

September 10, 2014

With an art scene as prominent and ever-changing as New York’s, you don’t want to miss these essential …

Artforum | There Goes the Neighborhood

September 10, 2014

EVERY YEAR, for the two weeks following Labor Day, the art and fashion worlds own New York. Runway shows …

New York Observer | At Lévy Gallery: The Obsessions of Roman Opalka

September 5, 2014

“I’m going to mark my words,” said dealer Dominique Lévy. “This exhibition is most probably …

Architectural Digest | Looking Back at Roman Opalka's Attempt to Paint Every Number

August 31, 2014

Some people count sheep. Some, calories. Others, pennies. The French-born Polish artist Roman Opalka …

Artslant | September in New York: Maneuver the mania

August 28, 2014

There is a shift in every August when this art critic’s inbox goes from near vacancy to nearly too …

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