Sigmar Polke 1941-2010

Art Monthly, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Sigmar Polke 1941-2010


The abiding memory of those lucky enough to have attended the private view of 'Sigmar Polke: Join the Dots', at Tate Liverpool in 1995, is of the cream of the art world enthusiastically following the artist in a crazy version of the conga while singing at the tops of their voices. That Polke was leading us a dance is somehow appropriate for an artist who, throughout his career, challenged the status quo and refused to take either himself or the art world too seriously. The work, however, was another matter--it was both dead funny and dead serious, whether tackling the high ground of post-war gestural and 'hard edge' abstraction in, respectively, Modern Art, 1968 and Higher Powers Command: Paint the Right Hand Corner Black!, 1969, or challenging the dominance of capitalism and the creeping 'coca-colonisation' of culture, as American influence spread through Germany and the rest of Europe.

Born in a part of the former East Germany that is now in Poland, Polke escaped with his family to what was then West Germany, eventually settling in Dusseldorf. In 1959-60 he completed a glass painting apprenticeship at the Kaiserwerth which, along with his interest in Marcel Duchamp, may have influenced his later experiments with semi-transparent supports through which the stretcher could be seen, revealing the artifice of painting to the viewer. Revealing the hidden or suppressed was a constant theme in his work, whether addressing the continued legacy of Nazism in Germany in Paganini, 1982, or the complexity of the Bosnian conflict in the Goya-inspired Three New Commandments Found, 1998.

It was when Polke later transferred to the Kunstakademie that he met fellow students--and fellow East Germans--Konrad Fischer, the renowned dealer (he painted under his mother's maiden name 'Lueg'), and Gerhard Richter. …

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