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  • In Short
    'He [Fangor] is the great romantic of op art, working not by rule but by a combination of intuition and experiment, appealing not to reason but to our yearning toward the mysterious.' —John Canaday

    Painted by one of the most prolific Polish artists of the 20th Century, M 91 exemplifies Wojciech Fangor’s spectacular ability to achieve luminosity and movement. Created at the dawn of a nearly three-decade long tenure living in the United States, the boldly painted waves of M 91 are evidence of the artist’s deft mastery of brush and hue. Defined by its deep, meandering movement, and its distinct chromatic intensity, the work notably echoes Fangor’s large-scale M 74 residing at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which was similarly executed at the artist’s Madison, New Jersey studio. For both works, the titles follow a formulaic logic tracing Fangor’s geographical whereabouts – ultimately relating to their place of execution. ‘Circles and waves are useful’, Fangor said to Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘because they are deprived of angles and have continuous structure’.i In M 91, rich hued waves transition softly and edgelessly from blue to indigo to black.

     

    Wojciech Fangor, M 74, 1969, oil on canvas, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York. Image: Reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.
    Wojciech Fangor, M 74, 1969, oil on canvas, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York. Image: Reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.

    Born in 1922, Fangor studied at Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts before embarking on an artistic career which would span more than seventy years. Between 1945 and 1956, Fangor’s artistic output was aesthetically aligned with the hyperrealist style of the Socialist Realists, producing works which notably depicted the achievements of the workers in the Polish People’s Republic — exemplified by Postacie, 1950. In the mid-1950s, Fangor began shifting away from figuration and to veer towards theories of colour and space, unaware of the contemporary art scenes in Europe and the United States that were led by the Optical Art and Colour Field movements. Although the artist’s painterly practice was visually aligned with these artistic currents, Fangor developed it on his own as early as 1956. ‘I did not know that I was an op artist’, the artist explained, ‘[the] op movement connected with me’.ii

     

    Wojciech Fangor, Postacie, 1950, oil on canvas, Museum Sztuki, ?ód?. Image: Muzeum Sztuki, ?ód? and reproduced with permission of The Fangor Estate.
    Wojciech Fangor, Postacie, 1950, oil on canvas, Museum Sztuki, Łódź. Image: Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź and reproduced with permission of The Fangor Estate.

    Influences of Paul Signac, Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger are present in Fangor’s early experiments with abstraction. From 1954-1956, Fangor began collaborating with architects and members of the Artistic and Research Workshop at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, then headed by a former student of Le Corbusier. This collaboration and focus on architecture made the artist more aware of the importance of space and resulted in the evolution of Fangor’s scientific concepts, notably on how to create an illusion of space beyond the confines of the canvas with an emphasis on the structure of forms and an interactive relationship between the viewer and pictorial field.

     

    Wojcieh Fangor in Paris, 1964   Image: Courtesy of Magdalena Fangor and reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.
    Wojciech Fangor in Paris, 1964
    Image: Courtesy of Magdalena Fangor and reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.

     

    Path to Abstraction
    'When I was fourteen 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.'
    —Wojciech Fangor

    Furthermore, Fangor’s lifelong fascination with astronomy and the cosmos was instrumental in developing his ‘focus on exploring space as a fundamental aspect of the surrounding world’, as well as his ‘astronomical observations of planets, cosmic space, and colors inspired the artist to search for colour nuances  and color transitions devoid of sharp edges within abstract compositions on canvas’.iii His rigorous investigation of spatial concepts and colour, begun in 1957, was materialised for the first time the following year at Wojciech Fangor A Study of Space, a show organised at Warsaw’s Nowa Kultura Salon. On the occasion of this exhibition, the artist collaborated with Stanisław Zamecznik to present twenty black and white paintings installed on freestanding frames, in fine producing what he coined as an environment.  As the viewer moved through the environment, they simultaneously became an active participant of the show, their retina perceiving and manipulating the painted forms in turn. ‘The spectator automatically becomes a co-creator of the work by selecting his path and pace through this group of paintings’, Fangor explained.iv

     

    Wojciech Fangor, Stanisław Zamecznik, Study of Space, Nowa Kultura Salon, Warsaw, 1958. Image: Courtesy of Magdalena Fangor and reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.
    Wojciech Fangor, Stanisław Zamecznik, Study of Space, Nowa Kultura Salon, Warsaw, 1958.
    Image: Courtesy of Magdalena Fangor and reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.

    Unlike most post-war colour painters, Fangor worked with oil paints on primed canvases as opposed to acrylics. His pulsating soft-edged shapes were developed carefully through the application of thinned layers of oil paint with brushes of varying size in order to achieve sfumato. Unlike acrylics which rapidly dry, oil allowed Fangor to work the contrasting fields of colour slowly as the shapes transitioned into each other while also allowing the pigment to remain exceptionally saturated.

     
    Although a great admirer of Kazimir Malevich and his famous black square on white ground, Fangor rejected the Suprematist’s mysticism envisioning his circles as a scientific venture and ‘a vehicle for analytical thinking about color, space, and perceptions, not as a spiritual goal’.v These vibrantly hued planetary orbs on opaque grounds became a recurring motif throughout Fangor’s oeuvre, echoing the present work in their similar attention to space, colour, movement and their expressive power. 

  • Fangor Abroad

     

    Fangor met Beatrice G. Perry of Washington D.C.’s Gres Gallery while she was visiting Warsaw to choose works for her 1961 exhibition, the First Exhibition in America of Contemporary Polish Painting and Sculpture; this was the first presentation of the artist’s work in the United States, signalling a moment of increased critical acclaim for the artist. Soon after, Gres Gallery signed Fangor on a fixed salary in exchange for thirty paintings annually. With the gallery’s support, the artist was able to relocate to Paris where he was surrounded by friends including Alina Szapocznikow, Roman Cielślewicz and Jan Lenica. The artist was able to revisit his circle paintings when he moved to Berlin in 1964 after receiving a Ford Foundation grant. There, he nurtured important friendships with Dusseldorf’s group ‘Zero’ whose artistic theories were admired by Fangor despite being too kinetic for his own chromatic and spatial investigations.

     

    Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1955, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020. Image: Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation / Bridgeman Images.
    Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1955, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020. Image: Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation / Bridgeman Images.

    During his early visits to New York, Fangor realised that he had been painting in parallel to the Colour Field artists. It was then that the artist discovered the similarities between his work and that of Mark Rothko. Untitled, 1955, exemplifies the similar practice of slowly building colourful layers to form the floating soft edged forms, indeed shared by the two artists.


    By 1965, Fangor had been included in two group exhibitions in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. The Responsive Eye in 1965, was the first time Fangor’s work was presented in the context of Optical Art and exhibited alongside forty international artists including Bridget Riley, Carlos Cruz-Diaz, Kenneth Noland, Victor Vasarely, Morris Louis, and Frank Stella. Through this major achievement Fangor attained international recognition and press.

     

    Installation view of Number 17 in The Responsive Eye, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 23 February - 25 April 1965. Image: 2020, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. Reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.
    Installation view of Number 17 in The Responsive Eye, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 23 February - 25 April 1965. Image: 2020, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. Reproduced with the permission of The Fangor Estate.
     

    Fangor immigrated to the United States in 1966, with several offers from universities to teach his spatial theories in relation to art. The artist chose New Jersey’s Farleigh Dickinson University due to its proximity to the vibrant New York artist community and signed with Galerie Chalette. Four rigorous years of extensive teaching and exhibiting globally culminated in a solo exhibition of his paintings at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York; an honour distinguishing him as one of the best colourists of his time.


    iWojciech Fangor, quoted in ‘A Conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Wojciech Fangor’, Wojciech Fangor: Color and Space, ed. Magdalena Dabrowski, Milan, 2018, p. 197
    iiWojciech Fangor, quoted in ‘A Conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Wojciech Fangor’, Wojciech Fangor: Color and Space, ed. Magdalena Dabrowski, Milan, 2018, p. 197
    iiiMagdalena Dabrowski, ‘Fangor’s Innovations: In Search of New Meaning of Color, Light and Space’, Wojciech Fangor: Color and Space, ed. Magdalena Dabrowski, Milan, 2018, p. 15
    ivWojciech Fangor, quoted in Magdalena Dabrowski, ‘Fangor’s Innovations: In Search of New Meaning of Color, Light and Space’, Wojciech Fangor: Color and Space, ed. Magdalena Dabrowski, Milan, 2018, p. 16
    vMark Rosenthal, ‘Wojciech Fangor’s Celebration of the Circle’, Wojciech Fangor: Color and Space, ed. Magdalena Dabrowski, Milan, 2018, p. 29

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1979

    • Literature

      Magdalena Dabrowski, ed., Wojciech Fangor: Color and Space, Milan, 2018, no. 110, pp. 112, 218 (illustrated, p. 112)

Property from a Private European Collection

25

M 91

signed, titled and dated 'FANGOR M 91 1967' on the reverse
oil on canvas
168 x 177.5 cm (66 1/8 x 69 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1967.

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné, being prepared by the Estate of Wojciech Fangor.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for £252,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020