Wojciech Fangor (Polish/American, 1922-2015) NJ15 (Diptych) 1964
Lot 38* AR TP
Wojciech Fangor
(Polish/American, 1922-2015)
NJ15 (Diptych)
1964
Sold for £413,000 (US$ 534,382) inc. premium

Lot Details
Wojciech Fangor (Polish/American, 1922-2015)
NJ15 (Diptych)
1964

Each: signed, titled and dated 1964 on the reverse
oil on canvas, in two parts

Overall: 243.8 by 243.8 cm.
96 by 96 in.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Galerie Chalette, New York (no. L 5000X)
    Acquired directly from the above by the previous owner in 1971
    Thence by descent to the present owner



    Wojciech Fangor's images challenge and re-invent ideas about pictorial space, as well as that of artmaking itself. Fangor's mesmerizing and monumental canvases, as exemplified in NJ15 (1964) and M5 (1970), which both come to market for the first time, demonstrate the deep influence of the Space Race and the growing theories of human consciousness as well as the artist's career-defining obsession with liminal space, or the space between the space, which combine with stunning effect.

    Born in Poland in 1922 Fangor faced the horrors of World War II and the difficult period of reconstruction that followed. After grappling with more traditional modes of representation, he turned to poster art as an alternative to Social Realism that was then popular. His breakthrough as a painter came in 1958 with the exhibition, Study of Space at the New Culture Salon in Warsaw. It was here that his 'edgeless' abstractions were exhibited for the first time, defining a style in which NJ15 (1964) and M5 (1970) are quintessential examples. Rather than conventional influences, Fangor's works developed out of the artist's fascination with the larger concepts of the universe and consciousness that began with the discovery of telescopes as a teenager. This interest in what lay beyond Earth's atmosphere and the rapidly developing tools one would need to explore space were the impetus for his own meteoric rise through the art world. He followed Study of Space with an important show at Galerie Yvon Lambert in Paris. His works were included in the Fifteen Polish Painters exhibition at MoMA, New York in 1961 as well as the seminal Op show The Responsive Eye in 1965 also at MoMA. In 1970, the year of execution of M5, he was the subject of an important solo show at the Guggenheim, New York.

    The Cold War and its offshoot in the Space Race were both gaining momentum during Fangor's early search for his artistic language. He would have been exposed to the media blitz and plethora of images that followed in its wake, both in his native Poland—then part of the Soviet empire—and later in the US, his adopted home. The world's first satellite, Sputnik, was launched in 1957 and in 1961 Soviet Yuri Gagarin was the first human to reach space. Gagarin described his experience in way that conjures images of painting like in M5: "When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth's light-coloured surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich colour spectrum of earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet and finally coal black." (Yuri Gagarin in: Louise Young, Earth's Aura, New York 1977). Following Gagarin's ascent, US astronauts landed on the moon in 1969. Space was being mapped, photographed and explored as never before. Images of celestial bodies in the ether were brought into living rooms. The first image of earth taken from space were seen in 1966—changing one's view of the earth forever. The painted discs found in Fangor's paintings—ones inspired by this watershed period of history—distil the complexity of human kind's endeavour into pictorial abstractions. In NJ15 they look akin to the moons, planets and other celestial bodies we sought (and still seek) to understand.

    The study of consciousness, like that of the exploration of outer space, was evolving as a field of study during the 1950s and 1960s developing the perception that one's mind is limited in the capabilities of understanding. In order to "open your mind" one needed to find an external trigger to reach a higher mental state. Fangor like many of those artists from the Op art movement were fascinated by the possibilities this notion provided. Artists during that time were thinking about how to create art as a kind of looping meta-device. An artist would attempt to achieve a heightened level of consciousness, which would allow them to create new innovative ideas and images expressed within their artworks. These paintings or sculptures in turn would essentially become devices to activate a viewer's state of consciousness as well. Cultural theorist Dave Hickey discussed this phenomenon: "as we stand before Op paintings that resist our understanding, we introduce ourselves to our unconscious selves. We become aware of the vast intellectual and perceptual resources that await our command just beyond the threshold of our knowing" (Dave Hickey, 'Trying to See What We Can Never Know' in Joe Houston Ed., Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960, Columbus 2007, p. 35).

    NJ15 and M5 both come to market for the first time since their acquisition from Galerie Chalette in 1970 and 1971, while NJ15 is the largest and arguably the most seminal work by Fangor to ever be seen at auction. The gallery, which was instrumental in developing the careers of various Op artists, facilitated the acquisition of these works from the artist's personal collection, indicating their importance in his greater body of work. The two present works are key examples of Fangor's experimental and influential output demonstrating his infatuation of the unknown and the unexplored allowing them to be timeless in their ongoing ability to captivate, challenge and entrance.
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