SIX PAINTINGS FROM THE SIXTIES
WOJCIECH FANGOR SIX PAINTINGS FROM THE SIXTIES
My Mother, Beatrice Perry, recognised Wojciech Fangor’s genius early on. She exhibited his work at her gallery in the early ‘60’s, promoted and lent his paintings to the 15 Polish Painter’s exhibition and the
Responsive Eye exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in the late ‘60’s and in his exhibition in the early ‘70’s at the Guggenheim Museum. She also helped him with visas and grants in America. Ezra Pound famously said that “Artist are the antennae of society”. They recognise phenomena before society can articulate it. As an artist herself, Beatrice shared this wavelength. She recognised that Wojciech Fangor created a new art form of Light and Space. He accomplished this in 1958 working with architects to create an environment with his paintings that had no borders and interacted with each other to create light and space. This was so original that it was misunderstood as op art. It was not until a decade later when the Light and Space movement developed in California that his work became part of an art movement exemplified by James Turrell, Bruce Nauman and Robert Irwin. Fangor, working behind the Iron Curtain without State sanction and without the new technologies of light filled objects available in Silicon Valley, was able to accomplish this with paint like Mark Rothko. Wojciech Fangor was so ahead of his time that only now, 5 decades after his break through, is his ground breaking work being recognised. Beatrice Perry was the principal collector of Wojciech work from the early ‘60’s. Hart Perry
A conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Wojciech Fangor
made in the late fifties. This is true of you, 1958 is a very important year for you when you start to make new edgeless paintings; paintings of the edgeless transition of colours, can you tell me about these inventions?
HUO: Can you tell me how you came to Art, or Art came to you? WF: It is difficult to answer to your first question because visual art came to me, like to most people, in very early childhood.
At the same time you invented a study of space, a very early site-specific environment, can you tell me about it, and what prompted it?
After exiting the internal closed space of Mother’s womb and entering new external, complex and unfamiliar world one is exposed to visual, audial, tactile etc. phenomena. Sensual sensations that are alien and unresolved. That is why children draw and paint, because that is the way to domesticate, explain, and accept the mysterious experiences.
I’m curious to know more about the positive illusory space theory? Its rules of the game; and its necessary conditions. WF: The edgeless paintings which I started to do in 1957 and in 1958 made together with the architect Stanislaw Zamecznik using this kind of works an environment called ‘Study of Space’ has a long history in my fascination with astronomy and optical instruments. When I was 14 years old I constructed my first telescope and was very impressed with the image of the object in and out of focus and spectacular chromatic alteration. My involvement in optics and astronomy was not based upon scientific but visual phenomena. Zamecznik the architect was the intellectual partner for discussions about art and in new medium that space can play in Art.
That is why I think prehistorical people were painting on the walls of the caves the animals which were essential to their existence. One does not become an artist but one stays an artist. HUO: Is the past always a precondition of the present or the future? The future is… WF: The present is the future of the past. The present is the past of the future. Notion of time is inseparably linked to our notion of life. It is a condition of development between birth and death. HUO: The artist Gustav Metzger, who is now in his late eighties and lives in London, often told me that many of the key discoveries, which we had attributed to the revolutionary sixties, were actually
(See Manifesto written by Zamecznik and Fangor in 1960)
As far as the edgeless paintings are concerned one can explain the illusion of positive space with
WF: Because they have let me out. But also I was curious whether I could survive and develop in the Capitalist jungle.
physiological and optical reactions of our sight. The retina contracts and the lens tries to adjust the focus, but since it does not help, both retina and the lens give up. An illusion of movement or pulsation takes place.
HUO: In the late sixties you went to the US, and your work caught the attention of Josef Albers, can you tell me about your dialogue?
Now because the blurred edges do not allow to define the size an area of dark and light shapes, our judgement depends upon the lighting. More light; the white becomes larger- less light; the dark area increases. The spasm of the retina and lens creates an illusion of movement which is similar to the paralaxical movement of our everyday distance judgement.
WF: Josef Albers - I met him for the first time in 1962 while I was in the US on an Institute of Contemporary Arts fellowship. At the time he knew nothing about me, but received me in his house, showed his works, and was giving me more attention then I had expected. Next time, some five years later, he came to my show at the Chalette Gallery in New York City and was very impressed with my work - the circles and waves.
HUO: Later colour became independent; circles and waves pop up in your compositions? WF: Circles and waves are useful because they are deprived of angles and have continuous structure. Dots and stripes that cover the surface of the painting are providing a point of reference to the spatial illusions since they increase the reality of the surface of painting. That goes for the positive illusions as well as the perspective in figurative representation. These contrasts are, as any others, essential to visual art.
HUO: Can you tell me about collaborations with other artists and other disciplines?
HUO: Can you tell me about your exhibition at Yvon Lambert in Paris?
HUO: How did you connect to the Op art movement? How would you define Op Art today?
WF: In 1964 the Galerie Lambert in Paris gave me a one-man show. It was a small but important gallery connected to a polish bookstore.
WF: I did not know that I was an Op artist, Op movement connected with me. Moma curator William Seitz saw my show in Paris and included me in his show The Responsive Eye.
WF: In the fifties in Warsaw in a Socialist dictatorship, the art world- small in number because of war losses- kept together and collaborated on state commissions in teams. It provided two advantages - income and anonymity. At the same time they worked in their studios on their own ideas.
HUO: What prompted you to leave Poland in 1961?
HUO: Almost 50 years since your first exhibition, you did the exhibition of an exhibition in 2005, can you tell me about these fibreboard sculptures? And what prompted this surprising project? WF: The exhibition of an exhibition in 2005 took place in Oronsko, a centre for sculpture located in the middle of nowhere some 15km from Radom. I was offered a fabulous space 25m x 25m and 5m high to do a show. Since I felt that no one would come to see it I decided to show some very simple 3D structures and provide and fill the space with my own made visitors. That is why I constructed over 50 fibreboard cut outs in the form of human, diverse, individuals. The show ended with (no) whatsoever response. It was important for me, it materialised some of my feelings and suspicions. HUO: Are you a situationist? WF: I do not know. I am far more complex to be put in any such drawer. HUO: Do you have a pseudonym? WF: When I received my US citizenship I changed my first name to Voy because no one in the US could spell or pronounce Wojciech. When I was making my driving licence in New Mexico the Spanish origin clerk asked me ‘where are you going?’ It turned out that in Spanish Voy is ‘I am going’. October 2014
Green Rhomb 1961 Oil on canvas 200.7 x 134.6 cm 79 x 53 inches
Square 9 1962 Oil on canvas 91.5 x 91.5 cm 36 x 36 inches
# 15 1963 Oil on canvas 99 x 99 cm 39 x 39 inches
# 16 1963 Oil on canvas 99 x 99 cm 39 x 39 inches
# 10 1964 Oil on canvas 99 x 99 cm 39 x 39 inches
# 17 1964 Oil on canvas 99 x 99 cm 39 x 39 inches
Wojciech Fangor was born in Warsaw in 1922. A tutee of Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Felicjan Szczęsny Kowarski during World War II, in 1946 the artist graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He pursues painting, graphic arts, sculpture, and art in public space. Fangor made in debut in 1949, when he put on an exhibition of Cubistic landscapes and portraits. His popularity grew in the 1950s with the creation of, among other works, the pictures Figures (1950) and Korean Mother (1951) and posters, such as the one for the film The Walls of Malapaga (1952), the forerunner of the Polish School of Poster Art. The 1950s also saw Fangor collaboration with the architect Jerzy Soltan and his team. The period of ideological and artistic revisions brought about the first Environment in world art, A Study of Space (1958, in collaboration with Stanisław Zamecznik). At that time he painted edgeless and vibrant abstract pictures. His theory behind that artistic experience is called Positive Illusory Space. Between 1961 and 1966 Fangor lived and worked in Western Europe, and from 1966, in the United States. He took part in the International exhibition The
Responsive Eye held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965. The year 1970 saw his solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. After 1974 the artist produced figurative pictures using different painting techniques and modes of representations that were dominant in visual culture in the second half of the twentieth century. He made references to the critic of electronic media and contemporary culture. Held in 1990, the exposition Wojciech Fangor, 50 lat malarstwa (Wolciech Fangor, 50 years of painting) at the Zachęta State Gallery of Art, in Warsaw marked the returned of Fangor’s art to Polish exhibition venues and galleries. In 1998 the artist came back to Poland for good. In June 2002 he opened a retrospective at the BWA Contemporary Art Gallery in Katowice, and in 2003, at the Ugazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. In his works from that period the artist studied space/time in painting and in cultural context; the resultant artistic experiences materialised as The Exhibition of an
Exhibition held at the Orońsko Centre of Polish Sculpture in 2005. It was a time of referring to the discoveries and theories from nearly 50 years earlier, a time of artistic reflection on memory, on the palimpsest/like character of culture. Early into the second decade of the twenty-first century the artist worked on Graphic
Design for the Second Line of the Warsaw metro.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
Klub Mtodych Artystów I Naukowców (Young Artists’and Scientists’s Club), Warsaw 1958 A Study of Space, Warsaw 1962 Institute of Contemporary Art, Washing, D.C. 1963 Galerie Lambert, Paris 1964 Mueum Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen 1964 Galerie Falazik, Bochum 1965 Galerie Springer, Berlin 1966 Dom Galerie, Cologne 1966 Grabowski Gallery, London 1966 Kunstverein, Stuttgart 1967 Galerie Chalette, New York 1969 Galerie Chalette, New York 1970 Galerie Chalette, New York 1970 Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York 1971 Forth Worth Art Museum, Forth Worth, Texas 1971 University Art Museum, Berkley, California 1973 Summit Art Centre, Summit, New Jersey 1974 Chalette International Gallery, New York 1974 Hokin Gallery, Chicago 1977 Galerie Joellenbeck, Cologne 1978 Walter Kelly Gallery, Chicago 1983 Bodley Gallery, New York 1990 Zachęta State Art Gallery, Warsaw 1993 Mitchell Algus Gallery, New York 1994 Regional Museum, Radom 1995 Regional Museum, Chełm 1995 Galeria Stara BWA, Lublin 1998 Galeria R, Poznań 1999 Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, Łódź 2000 Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw
2001 2002 2002 2002 2003 2003 2004 2005 2005 2005 2005 2005 2007 2007 2007 2007 2007 2008 2009 2010 2010 2011 2012 2013
Casimir Pulaski Museum, Warka Galeria Rogatka, Radom Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw BWA Contemporary Art Gallery, Katowice Ujazdowski Castle Centre of Contemporary art, Warsaw Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw Orónsko centre of Polish Sculpture Galeria XXI, Warsaw Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw Galeria Zamek, Reszel Galeria Stary Browar, Poznań Gallery of Paintings and Graphic Arts, St Petersburg, Russia Zamek Gallery, Vyborg, Russia Galeria Fibak Warsaw Galeria aTAK, Warsaw Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw Galeria Atlas Sztuki, Łódź Galeria aTAK, Warsaw Galerie Stefan Szydłowski, Warsaw Galeria Test, Warsaw Galeria XXI, Warsaw National Museum, Krakow
Selected Group Exhibitions
1984 Harm Bouckaert Gallery, New York 1991 Jesteśmy. Works of Polish Artists Living Abroad, Zachęta State Art Gallery, Warsaw 1994 National Museum, Warsaw 1995 Sztuka mediacjii energetycznych (The art of energy mediation), BWA Contemporary Art Gallery, Katowice 2000 Język geometrii II (The Language of Geometry II), BWA Contemporary Art Gallery, Katowice 2004 Warszawa – Moskwa / - 1900-2000, Zachęta State Art Gallery, Warsaw 2005 Warszawa – Moskwa / - 1900-2000, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow 2010 Gender Check: Femininity and Masculanity in the art of Eastern Europe, Zachęta State Art Gallery, Warsaw
1950 The First Polish Visual Arts Exhibition, Warsaw 1951 The Second Polish Visual Arts Exhibition, Warsaw 1953 The First Polish Poster Exhibition, Warsaw 1957 The Second Modern Art Exhibition, Warsaw 1959 Polish Paintings Now, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1961 15 Polish Painters, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1964 Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York 1965 The Responsive Eye, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1965 Riverside Museum, New York 1965 Farleigh Dickinson University, Madison, New Jersey 1967 Museum Collection, Seven decades. A Selection, Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York 1967 Pittsburgh International, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1968 L’art Vivant Foundation, Saint-Paul-de-Vence 1968 XXXIV Venice Biennale, Venice 1969 The Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey 1969 Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio 1970 Pittsburgh International, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1974 Aldrich Museum of Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut 1980 Museum Collection, Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York 1980 Thorp Gallery, New York
Fangor and Zamecznik, Environment 1959, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Essay on environmental ideas and description of projects related to space and time, realised in 1958-59 by Wojciech Fangor and StanisĹ aw Zamecznik
The group starts a new communal life, generated and fed back by spatial relationships. The paintings used to create communal spatial group should meet certain criteria. They should be deprived of their usual compositional characteristics that make the picture a balanced and finite entirety.
Within the last 50 years, modern art has been frequently preoccupied with problems of time and space. Interest in these problems within modern art arose contemporaneously with scientific revelations in this field. However the attempts to incorporate time and space into painting were limited by the traditional concept of the picture as a finite structure, limited to itself and independent of the real space in which it happens to exist.
At the time we called these paintings â€˜hungryâ€™ because they were forced to satisfy their compositional needs by intercommunicating and interacting with the environment.
Contemporary painting ceased to be a peep-hole in the frame, it started to emanate and radiate out of its surface on to the outside, creating an active zone within the real space around it.
Freestanding structures provide an astonishing possibility of random but always self-regulating arrangements of colours and forms within the space. The magic of space and its perception in time brings a comparison to music. Elements arranged in rhythms and phrases, which come and go, pass away but stay in our memory. The possibility of creating poly-systems brings to mind music as another time-based art.
Several paintings appropriately situated generate several interacting spatial zones, creating an atmosphere different from that of each separate painting. After noticing this phenomenon, a desire arose to create a work of art based on modules similar to paintings, but so that the raw material for this work would not be limited to the paintings as such, but would consist primarily of the spatial zones generated by these paintings.
The new experiments in stereophony signal the introduction of three-dimensional space into the discipline of music. However the comparison ends here. The character of the dramas and stresses specific to spatial painting cannot be achieved by any other sort of art.
In other words we wanted to use paintings as elements to study what is happening between them. Paintings arranged in a certain order influence and act upon each other, lose their initial individual appearance and create a new group quality.
Everyone has an inherent apparatus for receiving spatial stimuli. But as the musical ear it can be better or lesser developed. We use it subconsciously
Fangor and Zamecznik, Studio space, 1959
confirmed our anticipations and posed a few new stimulating questions, revealing at the same time new difficulties, one of which is how to find a proper, versatile element which would conveniently function as a ‘painting in space’ organiser.
and on rather special occasions. Usually we think and feel habitually, but confronted with exotic places like the sea or the mountains, while flying or diving, we are emotionally touched, providing these experiences are not a matter of fact to us. As with an ear for music there is also a common disposition to receive spatial stimuli, sort of a ‘spatial ear’, the feel for space.
For now it seems proper to reach for available traditional forms and materials and make them work for the new idea.
In 1959, thanks to Mr W. Sandberg, we were offered a room at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to create a spatial composition. This time we decided to test the influence of saturated colour on space. We have built a construction that was saturated with blue, red, black and white.
The first motorcars looked very much like horse carriages and there is nothing one can do right away to change it.
We have designed a sequence of events to be perceived in time along a predetermined path. This path led through constant confrontations of forms and colours, stored in memory with those which succeeded, creating new layers of memories. It caused strangely different perceptions of the same forms and colours due to different adventures in time and space. For example passing through space, saturated with red, which aggressively penetrated the entering spectator, primed his memory with the image of red. With this image in mind he was met by a group of black and white structures. The confrontation of the image imprinted in the mind, with the one actually perceived, created a new and specific expression of the black and white structures. Further on, a blue space replaced the red, giving a completely different effect and perception of the same black and white structures. This exhibition
Internal/External - Lecture by Wojciech Fangor at the ŁódŹ Academy of Fine Arts on May 17, 2001
with the cross-section of the letter C, there is a clear borderline-formed by the edge. In curved surfaces, it is possible to obtain a constant-and seemingly unlimited-transition from the internal to the external, for example a surface with the cross-section of the letter S, a rolled-up sleeve with the cross section ………, or the Möbius strip, yet such transformations must pass through an obscure border zone that, much as the edge, has a zero character.
It could seem that these two concepts are simple and obvious. One could say that they describe the characteristic features of two contradictory types of space. However, these concepts are neither unequivocal nor evident. They depend on the context in which we consider them. We say that ‘the pencils are inside the drawer’, ‘the drawer is inside the table’ and ‘the table is inside the room’ and so on. We can reverse this arrangement and say that the room is outside the table, the table is outside the drawer, and the drawer is outside the pencils. The concept of the interior and exterior is based on a contrast and opposition, yet at the same time, these two features are complementary.
What we are saying here are fairly basic objective activities that can also refer to more subjective matters conditioned by illusions. One example is painting. There are paintings that we can penetrate in a way- for instance, paintings based on perspective. There are also those that limit or seek to completely eliminate spatial illusions, with the contrasts taking place on the surface. Examples include late Mondrian and Malewicz, and in Poland- Stażewski.
For example, if we cut a ball in two, each half will feature an internal concave space and a convex external space adjacent to it. Internal and external spaces conjure up different feelings. Convexity tends to dilute and reduce the space, and as a result it puts us off. Concavity makes the space appear thicker and larger, which has an encouraging effect on the viewer, in a sense drawing them in. One can make an analogy to optics where a convex mirror diffuses light, while a concave mirror focuses it. We are all familiar with the fact that a dome creates the impression of greater space than a flat ceiling even though the volume is identical.
In 1957, I discovered a method for producing illusions of the space activated outside the paintingbetween the surface of the canvas and the viewer. This method was based on a constant edge-free transition of one colour into another. The constant flow of colours or values without a sharp border was widely practiced from the Renaissance times onward, but this function was strictly linked with the definition of a structure- with light on the one hand, and shade on the other. Such was the case with Old Masters as well as artists of the first half of the 20th century. Léger, Picasso and early Malewicz
In the case of a cut sphere and a curved surface
There is the pulsing and transition of one colour into the other. We are dealing with an illusion of movement. Because we cannot precisely define how much black there is and how much white, the evaluation takes on statistical feature.The amount of black increases with less light, and the other way round; we see more white when there’s more light. By either widening or narrowing the pupils we change the amount of light, which causes an apparent movement of these colours. This, in turn, conjures up the idea of parallactic movement, which is one of the main factors behind the evaluation of distance. All this can be classified among physiological phenomena accessible to everyone.
followed that approach to give form and shape to their presentations. It was not until the second half of the last century that the constant edge-free colour flow method was applied as an exclusive, independent means of expression in a painting. I was one of the first to actually use this mechanism and explain its workings. I would like to add at this point that certain discoveries depend on time, and (except for personal satisfaction) it is not really important who was first, second or third. It’s like pears; when the first pear ripens and falls from the tree, it doesn’t necessarily mean that other pears are copying it-it only means that the autumn has come.
The discovery of the positive space illusion was especially useful in the creation of the first ‘environment’ in Warsaw in 1958. I called it ‘a study of space’ at the time. The installation was primarily made up of elements with an edge-free flow of black and white. The positive space illusion produced in this way harmonised with the real space of the entire arrangement. This was an artistic creation whose experience was conditional not so much on viewing as on the physical penetration of the viewer into the installation. On another occasion, a year later, together with Zamecznik, we demonstrated the influence of immersion in various colours on the reception of an external black and white installation.
The edge-free transition of one colour into another produces an illusion of space that in a way spreads from the surface of the painting to the viewer. I called this phenomenon a positive space illusionunlike the negative space illusion, which develops inside the painting. Let me now say something about the mechanisms of the positive space illusion.If we have two contrasting colours, for example black and white, which flow into each other without edges, this situation can be commonly described as a blurred image.Quantitatively, we cannot determine the amount of black and the amount of white. Where one ends and the other begins. This causes frustration. It seems to us that something takes place close to our eyes and that’s why we cannot focus this image. We automatically adapt the lenses and narrow the pupils to sharpen our eyesight. This does not help, so the pupils reopen.
Let’s move to other forms of internal and external space. An embryo in the mother’s womb is nestled ‘inside’,
etc. and, of course, our senses, which accept and convey fragmentary information on the basis of which we create the image of the opposite space. What reaches us inside are packages of external reality encoded with light, sound, smell and touch. On the other hand, on the basis signals, it is impossible to feel and experience the interior of an outside entity. We try to break free from our internal loneliness and find ways to reconcile and combine these contradictions into a single whole. Perhaps we experience an illusion of our oneness with the surroundings-immersed in the womb of common faith or ideology, joining a partner in mutual love, or undergoing an aesthetic experience through art. In artistic creativity, anything that comes from the outside through the channels of our senses is transformed by our personality, the time we live in and the cultural tradition of which we are a product. From this, we form structures for viewing, listening and reading.
and topologically, through the umbilical cord; it is part of the mother’s interior. Its development prepares it to leave the mother’s interior and build its own interior, which will mean independent existence in an external environment. Childbirth is a dramatic metamorphosis and a transformation of the internal into external. After this happens, the human being exists in two intransgressable centres.It has an interior not in the form of anatomical organs, but in the form of being. This is not awareness, because awareness has to do with a rational transmission of information. Being is not understanding, but feeling one’s internal existence in a comprehensive experience of oneself. Unlike awareness, it is synchronic and unchangeable. So we have two spaces: a space enclosed inside our being and an external space- the whole world outside us. It seems these two worlds cannot overlap. No one can experience our interior, while we cannot experience ourselves from the outside. Photographs, mirror and voice recordings will not help. They are only our likenesses, not ourselves. Just as other people, houses, trees and animals are only images for us; we cannot experience ourselves from the outside. And whatever is on the outside cannot experience our interior. Inside we are alone. This contradiction seems to be irreconcilable. However, we try to negotiate and find a middle ground- a connection.
These structures are created on the basis of seemingly contradictory elements- by the present time and by tradition, by the creator’s interior and the exterior of the world in which he lives. This amalgamate of contradictions in a work of art gives us an illusion of joining, unity and identity. It gives us an illusion of penetration of the impassable border between the internal and external. It gives us an illusion of our former life inside the mother’s womb.
The exterior and interior feature certain openings that promise coexistence. These include the window, door, television, telephone, speech, writing
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