Sigmar Polke: Michael Werner Gallery

By Pincus-Witten, Robert | Artforum International, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Sigmar Polke: Michael Werner Gallery


Pincus-Witten, Robert, Artforum International


These thirty-odd recent paintings continue to chart the problematic fusion of Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol that makes Sigmar Polke the artist of greatest pertinence to the current generation of painters, be they European or American.

His new works--painted either directly onto a corrugated layer of hardened translucent gel or onto the fabric beneath these striated surfaces--are, despite their tag name "Lens Paintings," scarcely lenticular at all. The ridging does not appreciably blur the patterns or occlude the visible images or the paint strokes. To insist on a lenslike tightening of focus seems, in this instance, to miss the point of Polke's impulsiveness and the momentum of disaster it registers.

By now, Polke's puddles of paint, pools of color, tireless (and cliched) nineteenth-century steel-plate illustrations, modern benday newsprint imagery, gaudily patterned fabric, slack gesture and smudge are a dog's lunch of scarcely provisional indexes for paint and brush, surrogates equaling Ego, not Edit. It may well be that Polke and his myriad followers are postulating a Mannerist form of Abstract Expressionism--a recognition that admits the preeminence of the earlier movement--even as they further "beautify" it or, contrarily, render it more "ugly" in the hope that in so doing their new resolutions will reset the priorities of our sense of painterly beauty.

While Polke's charismatic sprawl is unquestionably influential, the very organizational principles of his art (if they could even be described as such) argue against the privileging of unique works. …

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