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Wojciech Fangor, one of the most distinctive painters to emerge from postwar Poland, died on Oct. 25 in Warsaw. He was 92.
His death was confirmed by Prof. Margaret Soltan of George Washington University, a family friend.
Mr. Fangor, who was known for his blurred circles, amoebas and cloud shapes in dense, saturated colors that seemed to throb and swirl, first became known in the United States in the 1960s, when his work was included in two group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1970, he had a one-man show at the Guggenheim Museum. His work, perched midway between Color Field painting and Op Art, dazzled critics, notably John Canaday of The New York Times, who reviewed the work in rapturous tones.
“As a colorist he has extended the limits — and keeps on expanding them — of the simplest optical laws,” Mr. Canaday wrote, calling him “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.” In Mr. Fangor’s hands, he wrote, the visual trickery of Op Art became “a portal opening on to new experiences of color in space.”
Wojciech Fangor (pronounced VOY-teck FAHN-gor) was born in Warsaw on Nov. 15, 1922, into a wealthy family. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined his mother and sister at a family home in Klarysew, about 10 miles southeast of Warsaw, and took private art lessons with Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Felicjan Kowarski.
After the war he was granted a diploma in absentia from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he later taught, and for a time painted in a figurative style that reflected his interest in Cubism, French Impressionism and German Expressionism.
After Socialist Realism became Poland’s official style in 1949, Mr. Fangor turned out paintings with a political message, notably Korean Mother, which depicted a small Korean boy grieving over the body of his mother, killed by American bombs, and Lenin in Poronin. In the arresting Figures, he placed two stalwart proletarian workers, a man and a woman, next to a coolly glamorous Western woman, with bright-red manicured nails, wearing oversize sunglasses and a chic dress emblazoned with the words “London,” “Wall Street,” “Miami” and “Coca-Cola.”
Dissatisfied with painting as a propaganda medium, he became a founding member of the Polish Poster School, known for its bold, modernist design, and created hundreds of film posters. In the new atmosphere of artistic freedom that took hold in the Soviet bloc after Stalin’s death, Mr. Fangor began experimenting with abstraction, using oil on primed canvas, rather than acrylic, as most Color Field painters did. Oils gave his work a much denser concentration of color.
He achieved national fame with a 1958 installation at the New Culture Salon in Warsaw, Study of Space. Staged in collaboration with the architect Stanislaw Zamecznik and the designer Oskar Hansen, it put 20 of his optical paintings on display. A more ambitious version of the installation, called Color in Space, was shown in Amsterdam at the Stedelijk Museum the following year.
In 1961, MoMA included one of his paintings in the exhibition “15 Polish Painters,” and a year later he toured colleges and art schools in the United States on a grant. Along the way, he met the powerful critic Clement Greenberg, a champion of Color Field painting. It was not a happy encounter, as Mr. Fangor recalled in an interview with the art magazine Zoo last year. “In 1962, during a private dinner, Greenberg said, ‘It is interesting what you are doing, it connects with our young American painting school, but you should paint on raw canvases. A painting is not a lollipop.’ I tried to explain my idea about space to him, but he was totally uninterested.”
In 1965, MoMA included Mr. Fangor, with 98 other artists, in “The Responsive Eye,” a comprehensive survey of Op Art that traveled around the United States.
After teaching in West Berlin and in Britain, he emigrated to the United States in 1966 and soon began showing at the Galerie Chalette on the Upper East Side. He also taught art at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J. By the time of that Guggenheim show, however, interest in Op Art was waning, and his career went into decline.
In the 1970s, he began incorporating images from television into his work, breaking them into pixel-like dots of color. He later included fragments of scenes, characters and objects drawn from famous paintings or popular magazines in his work.
In 1999, Mr. Fangor, who is survived by his wife, Magdalena Shummer-Fangor, returned to Poland, where he set up a studio in an old mill in Bledow, near Warsaw, and enjoyed a career resurgence.
He created graphic design for the new metro line in Warsaw, whose first segment opened in March, and in 2012 he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the National Museum in Krakow. Last week, a survey show of his installations and sculptures opened at the Center for Polish Sculpture in Oronsko.
“Pity that this came when I was 90 and not when I was 40,” he told Zoo magazine.
Last year, the gallery 3 Grafton Street in London reintroduced Mr. Fangor in “Color, Light, Space,” exhibiting his most vibrant abstractions from the 1960s in the show curated by Simon and Michaela de Pury. For many critics it was a revelation. In Artnet News, Coline Milliard praised Mr. Fangor for his “absolute command of the blur,” a technique that sent his forms into tremulous motion.
“The impression of movement is so striking at times that it looks as if the pigment is dancing on the picture plane, permeating the space that separates viewer and canvas,” she wrote. “The ensemble is a joyfully riotous inversion of traditional perspective: infectious, unsettling, exhilarating.”
Biography from the Archives of AskART - via The New York Times obituary of Wojciech Fangor by William Grimes, November 9, 2015
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1949 - Young Artists and Scientists Club, Warsaw, Poland (former IPS)
1958 - 'A Study of Space', The New Culture Salon, Warsaw, Poland
1962 - Institute of Contemporary Art, Washington, DC
1963 - Lambert Gallery, Paris, France
1964 - Morsbroich Castle Museum, Leverkusen, Germany
1965 - Springer Gallery, Berlin, Germany
1966 - Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany
1970 - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, USA
1971 - University Art Museum, Berkeley, California, USA
1974 - Hokin Gallery, Chicago, Illinois, USA
1990 - Retrospective Exhibition - 50 years of painting, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland
1994 - The Museum of Art, Radom, Poland
2000, 2003 - Stefan Szydłowski Gallery, Warsaw, Poland
2003 - Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland
Selected Group Exhibitions
1950 - 1. National Exhibition of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland
1951 - 2. National Exhibition of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland
1957 - 2. Exhibition of Modern Art, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland
1959 - Polish Painting Now, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
1961 - 15 Polish Painters, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, USA
1964 - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, USA
1965 - The Respansive Eye, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, USA
1967 - Pittsburgh International, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
1968 - Venice Biennale of Art, Venice, Italy
1974 - Aldrich Museum of Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut, USA
1980 - Tharp Gallery, New York, New York, USA
1994 - The National Museum, Warsaw, Poland