4 December 2014

Sigmar Polke at Tate Modern

Tate Modern is now showing the retrospective Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010, previously at MoMA, New York. Polke, who died in 2010, was born in Silesia in 1941, fleeing west with his family as the Red Army advanced in 1945. In 1953 they left East Germany and settled in Düsseldorf. By the time he was a student alongside Gerhard Richter and others, the German economic recovery (Wirtschaftswunder) was under way and he responded to the rise of they saw as an American-style consumer culture with pop art works like The Sausage Eater (1963, Der Wurstesser, below left) and “raster drawings” made up of dots like Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald (1963, below right):

The dot drawings were far less mechanistic in appearance than Lichtenstein’s and part of a social commentary (Capitalist Realism) on German affluence and tourism, for example Girlfriends (1965-66, Freundinnen, below left), and fabric paintings like The Palm Painting (1964, Das Palmenbild, below right):

Also in the 1960s he took to criticising modern art in its various forms, whether abstract or conceptual – Solutions V (1967, Lösungen V, below left), even ridiculing artists in general - Polke as Astronaut (1968, Polke als Astronaut, below right):

During the 1970s Polke experimented with hallucinogenic drugs and went on the hippie trail through what is now called AfPak, and then further afield, making films (there are three at the Tate) and colouring in photographic images - Untitled (Quetta, Pakistan), (1974-1978 , below top)- but also painting works like Supermarkets (1976, below lower) which are a continuation of earlier preoccupations:

After the 1980s Polke began experimenting with unusual pigments – dye extracted from snails or heat and humidity sensitive substances as he used at the Venice Biennale in1986. A raster painting Police Pig (1986, Polizeischwein, below left), was hung outside the German pavilion. At that time he also made a series of Watchtower paintings which evoke both divided Germany and the Nazi camps, Watchtower (1984, Hochsitz, below right):

In the 1990s he experimented even more widely with soot paintings, distorted photocopying , resins, the effect of radiation on photographic materials, 3-D lenses and holograms, all explored in the Tate show. At the end of all this in 2007 he created The Illusionist (below), a work which I will not attempt to interpret but instead reproduce what Tate Modern had to say about it:

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 continues in London until 8 February 2015 and will be at Museum Ludwig in Cologne from 14 March to 5 July.

I have now posted here about all three of the most highly regarded German post-War painters, Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer being the others.  For what it’s worth, my personal preference is for Richter.

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