Roman Opalka
Roman Opałka was a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

-born Polish
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...


Opałka was born on August 27, 1931, in Abbeville-Saint-Lucien
Abbeville-Saint-Lucien is a small village in northern France. It is designated municipally as a commune within the département of Oise....

, France, to Polish parents. The family returned to Poland in 1946 and Opałka studied lithography at a graphics school before enrolling in the School of Art and Design in Lodz. He later earned a degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw
Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw
Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw is a public university of visual and applied arts located in the Polish capital. The Academy traces its history back to the Department of Arts founded at the Warsaw University in 1812. As a separate institution it was founded in 1844 during the Partitions of Poland...

. He moved back to France in 1977. Opałka lived in Teille
Teillé, Sarthe
Teillé is a commune in the Sarthe department in the region of Pays-de-la-Loire in north-western France.-References:*...

, near Le Mans, and Venice. He died at age 79 after falling ill while on holiday in Italy. He was admitted to a hospital near Rome and died there a few days later, on August 6, 2011, three weeks before his 80th birthday. The final number he wrote was 5,607,249.


In 1965, in his studio in Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

, Opałka began painting a process of counting – from one to infinity. Starting in the top left-hand corner of the canvas and finishing in the bottom right-hand corner, the tiny numbers were painted in horizontal rows. Each new canvas, which the artist called a 'detail', took up counting where the last left off. Each 'detail' is the same size (196 x 135 cm), the dimension of his studio door in Warsaw. All details have the same title, "1965 / 1 – ∞"; the concept had no end, and the artist pledged his life to its execution: 'All my work is a single thing, the description from number one to infinity. A single thing, a single life.'

Over the years there were changes to the ritual. In Opałka's first details he painted white numbers onto a black background. In 1968 he changed to a grey background 'because it's not a symbolic colour, nor an emotional one', and in 1972 he decided he would gradually lighten this grey background by adding 1 per cent more white to the ground with each passing detail. He expected to be painting virtually in white on white by the time he reached 7 777 777: 'My objective is to get up to the white on white and still be alive.' As of July 2004, he had reached 5.5 million. Adopting this rigorously serialized approach, Opałka aligned himself with many other artists of the time who explored making art through systems and mathematics, like Daniel Buren
Daniel Buren
Daniel Buren is a French conceptual artist.- Work :Sometimes classified as an abstract minimalist Buren is known best for using regular, contrasting maxi stripes to integrate the visual surface and architectural space, notably historical, landmark architecture.Among his chief concerns is the...

, On Kawara
On Kawara
is a Japanese conceptual artist living in New York City since 1965. He has shown in many solo and group exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale in 1976.-Early life:After graduating from Kariya High School in 1951, Kawara moved to Tokyo...

, and Hanne Darboven
Hanne Darboven
Hanne Darboven was a German conceptual artist. She became best known for her large scale minimalist installations consisting of handwritten tables of numbers.-Early life and career:...

. He was represented in Paris and New York by Yvon Lambert
Yvon Lambert
Yvon Pierre Lambert is a retired Canadian ice hockey forward.Yvon started his National Hockey League career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1973. He would spend nine years in Montreal before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres...

  and in Venice by Galleria Michela Rizzo.

In 1968 Opałka introduced a tape recorder, speaking each number into the microphone as he painted it, and also began taking passport-style photographs of himself standing before the canvas after each day's work, a ritual bookkeeping of time passing. The process was endless, but measured against its goal – infinity – it is as naught: 'the problem is that we are, and are about not to be'.

In 2007 Opałka participated at the symposium "Personal Structures
Personal Structures
Personal Structures is an international contemporary art platform, which generates the possibility for artists and art historians to discuss philosophical concepts in art....

 Time-Space-Existence" a project initiated by the artist Rene Rietmeyer.


Opałka participated in many of the art world’s most important international exhibitions, including Documenta
documenta is an exhibition of modern and contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. It was founded by artist, teacher and curator Arnold Bode in 1955 as part of the Bundesgartenschau which took place in Kassel at that time...

 in Kassel, Germany, in 1977; the Sao Paolo Bienal in 1987; and the Venice Biennale
Venice Biennale
The Venice Biennale is a major contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years in Venice, Italy. The Venice Film Festival is part of it. So too is the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which is held in even years...

, in 1995 and 2003. He was represented in Paris and New York by Yvon Lambert, in Venice by Galleria Michela Rizzo and, for many years, at John Weber in New York.


Opałka's works can be found in the permanent collections of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and New York’s Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...

 among others.


Opałka won the celebrated Grand Prize of the 7th International Biennial of Arts and Graphics of Cracow in 1969, the C. K. Norwid Art Critics Award in 1970, Franceʼs National Painting Prize in 1991 and Germanyʼs Kaiser Prize in 1993. He was named Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and of Letters) in France.

External links

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