and his contemporaries 1960 - 1995
During his life as artist, Wojciech Fangor (1922 - 2015) was part of significant international movements that had profoundly changed the course of Western art history. The depth of Fangor’s art, the openness of his artistic approach and his search for the New resulted in a significant oeuvre that has kept its relevancy till today. This exhibition is an attempt to show Fangor in relation to his peer artists fascinated by the same issues at the same moment in time, and to understand his work from a broader perspective of the changing socio-cultural context. Four selected areas defined by Fangor’s specific works structure this exhibition: Abstraction, Interfacial Spaces, Television Paintings and Chair series. Needless to say, these four selected blocks highlight only a part of artist’s rich and ever-changing oeuvre.
ABSTRACTION: Fangor’s interest in space that manifested itself already in the revolutionary environment Study in Space in 1958 paved the way to a major body of work that was often categorized as optical abstraction. Op-Art, as this it is known now, was an artistic endeavor to understand working of vision, perception, and visual experience. Fangor had never considered himself an op-artist really, although he participated in the movement’s defining exhibition “The Responsive Eye” at MOMA in New York in 1965 and was working in this territory for many years. How to reinvent the medium painting was a subject of artistic investigations in Europe during the 1960, when Fangor was moving between West-Germany, UK and France. Günther Uecker, the leading figure of the German Zero Movement used nails as ‘paint’ for his monochrome paintings, extending the picture’s surface into the space with play of light and shadow. Jan Henderikse, one of the founders of the Dutch Null Group worked with all sorts of industrial waste as painting material, stressing the idea of the new begin and trying to eliminate the personal signature of the artist in the work. Fangor found these experiments thought-provoking but stayed focused on his own study of space glued to painting’s surface engaging the viewer. His ideas were more connected to the work of the German-American Josef Albers whom he met after his arrival in USA in 1966. Applying a matrix of geometrical abstraction, Albers studied the behavior of colors and hues that culminated in his acclaimed Homage to the Square series (1950-1976). He met Fangor and admired him for adding to the pictorial surface the dimension of space extending beyond the canvas. Geometrical abstraction was also of interest for Al Loving, the first African-American artist that got a solo exhibition at Whitney Museum in 1969. His hard-edge abstractions as opposed to Fangor’s soft contoured shapes shows again the variety of approached within the medium of abstract painting of that time.
INTERFACES: In 1973 Fangor collaborated with the renowned American ballet company of Martha Graham, who had asked him to design stage sets for her ballet “Mendicants of Evening”. The collaboration might have triggered Fangor’s interest in investigating the complex psychological and formal relationships between people, where space, again, plays a main role as a connecting and dividing element. In the series Interfaces Fangor reintroduced traces of figuration in order to combine “the rational blocks with emotional demons”, when focusing on human encounters. The 1970s were characterized by discovery of the physical human body as artistic medium, which resulted in the proliferation of performance art. The emotional and physical interaction between the bodies in the real physical space was also a subject addressed by the pioneers of the performance art, Ulay and Marina Abramovic in their legendary Relational Works in the period between 1976 and 1981.
TELEVISION PAINTINGS: In this unique series that started at the end of the 1970s, Fangor’s fascination with the medium television goes hand in hand with his analyzes of its overpowering impact on culture and society at large. The omnipresence of TV, its strong influence on people’s but also its aesthetics captivated interest of many artists, who had analyzed simultaneous realities offered by the TV and the possible dangers of electronic communication. Over the years Barkley Hendriks made photographic series of television screens that documented the changing popular visual culture, news, and making of public figures. Andy Warhol is perhaps the most famous artist to be captivated by American consumerism and celebrity cult accelerated by the media and TV. The idea and the object-television were central to the work of Nam June Paik, who in his sculptures conveyed the importance of this medium and its close relation to the human body.
CHAIR: Fangor seems to be intrigued by the chair throughout his whole life. Looking at his studio photos the chair had always taken a prominent place next to his works. Perhaps the chair stands in for the absent artist. In the 1980s and 1990s Fangor painted several portraits of a chair placing himself in a tradition of other artists enthralled by this form, such as Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney. The chair has been an object that offered possibilities to experiment with the pictorial plane and perspectival space, in order to, again, reflect on perception, but also on art history and social conventions. Fangor’s good artist friend Richard Artschwager, also someone who didn’t want to be pinned down to one school, investigated the chair and other objects in their many appearances, as furniture, sculpture, and image all at once. For Sigmar Polke the chair serves as a simple object loaded with social references.