He began to work with architects, including Stanisław Zamecznik, who instilled in Fangor an awareness of space as an artistic material. Fangor’s 50s works prefigured much of the 60s op art, and, whereas others focused their attention on the canvas as the primary vehicle of artistic expression, Fangor conceived of the whole room as his playground. In his 1958 exhibition A Study of Space, held at the New Culture Salon in Warsaw and created with Zamecznik, he installed all but four of his 20 paintings on freestanding easels within the gallery space – an early installation work or “whole-room experience”. The exhibition was not about individual paintings, but about the relationships between them and, by choosing a path between the easels and wall-hung paintings, the viewer could become co-author of a work that was not a closed structure, but an open system.
In 1961, Fangor’s work was featured in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York: 15 Polish Painters. As a result of this, he began to become known on both sides of the iron curtain. Four years later, his work was shown alongside that of Bridget Riley and Frank Stella in the seminal Op Art exhibition at the same venue. In 1970, he was given a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim, showcasing 37 of his works, and he remains the only Polish artist to have achieved this to date.
The main focus of Fangor’s work from this period is to show light, its spectrum and the chromatic effects of its separation. He covered his canvases in coloured circles and waves, removing all figurative elements, and allowing the contours to vibrate and create what he terms a “positive illusory space”, projecting forwards towards the viewer.
After some time spent living and working abroad, and emigrating to the US in 1966, Fangor returned to Poland in 1999. As a result, he is, today, little known abroad. Luckily, he has not escaped the attention of Kasia Kulczyk or Michaela de Pury.
In an interview with Studio International at the opening of an exhibition of Fangor’s early works, as part of the new cultural programme at 3 Grafton Street, Mayfair, a Georgian town house owned by Kulczyk’s family, Kulczyk explains why it is so important for her to bring Fangor’s work back out into the public. Michaela de Pury, who has curated the exhibition along with her husband Simon, also speaks to us about the attraction of Fangor’s work and how she would like to take it further afield.
Wojciech Fangor: Colour-Light-Space
3 Grafton Street, London
9 December 2014 – 9 January 2015
Interviews by ANNA McNAY
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY