Sigmar Polke

Annie Lee | May 22, 2024

Table of Content


Sigmar Polke, born on February 13, 1941 in Oels (Silesia), now Oleśnica (Poland) and died on June 11, 2010 in Cologne, was a contemporary German artist who practiced painting primarily by constantly critically analyzing it, in its material and aesthetic aspects as much as in its cultural purposes. But his multiform work includes photography, film, installations and performances.

Polke's family fled the German Democratic Republic in 1953. Upon arriving in West Germany, in Wittich, Sigmar Polke began spending time in galleries and museums while working as an apprentice in a stained glass factory called Düsseldorf Kaiserwerth, before entering the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie (art school) at age 20. There he made paintings that incorporated photographs on canvas. At graduation in 1968, he published a box of 14 photographs made with a borrowed camera signifying his "table top sculptures" and performances. Over the next four years, he made thousands of photographs that were never printed and several films that were never edited, for financial reasons. Self-taught in photography, Polke experimented with chemicals with the help of chemists, incorporating errors and elements of chance into his finished work.

Together with his fellow students Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg, he started a trend at Kunstakademie called "Capitalist Realism". It is an anti-style of art, appropriating the pictorial shorthand of advertising. This realism related to the model of artistic realism known as "Soviet Socialist Realism", thus the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union, but it also commented on the art of consumer incentive, "doctrine" of Western capitalism.

The anarchic side of Polke's work was largely guided by his paradoxical critical approach to history, to the values of Western society, but also to our relationship with time, and his work still remains largely enigmatic yet eminently stimulating, "a battlefield of dangerous materials and subjects" to use Bernard Marcadé's phrase. His irreverence towards traditional painting techniques and materials, his pleasure in experimentation and in playing with personal styles (former "trademarks" that allowed each artist to be identified) as well as styles - figuration, abstraction, Expressionism, Romanticism... - or of the various statuses of the image - expressive, advertising, documentary, ready-made... - all these attitudes that characterize his approach as an artist have established his now respected reputation as a visual revolutionary.

The painting titled Paganini, which manifests, but as a rebus can, the "difficulty of getting rid of the demons of Nazism," is typical of Polke's tendency to accumulate different plastic means on a single canvas, but remaining in the two-dimensional realm, without ever making it a multimedia work. Polke often combines lacquers, household materials, heat-sensitive colors, paint, dyes, as well as colors now withdrawn from the market because of toxicity, but also mixtures based on aluminum, iron, potassium, sealing wax, or his own photographs. Several of these materials are often found together in a single piece to the point of jeopardizing the conservation of the work.

The traditional support is often abandoned in favor of the printed canvas. He sometimes assembles several pieces and this can be the essence and the reason for the work: what is usually hidden comes to light. He also uses transparent synthetic veils that leave the frame visible. This method still reveals the approach of the artist who, without ever being demonstrative but with humor, likes to reveal the "backstage", and invite us to question the visible, not to evacuate what underlies it. Fragments of complex "narratives" often use the photographic medium, or the screen copy, but manipulated to the point that the image is partially destroyed rendered to a more or less formless matter, and yet transposed into paint often with the greatest care is often implicit in the multi-layered image, giving the effect of projecting hallucinations or dream images onto a series of overlapping veils. But the "image" can also appear only if there is an observer to "warm" it with an electric lamp. Or by working on both sides of the canvas, counting on the slow transmigration of the work done on the back of the canvas to the front. Or by making a painting that metamorphoses in the changing light of Venice, from morning to night. Here time is given to us to see as a co-realizer of the work.

Polke made a series of trips around the world during the 1970s, handling photographs in Pakistan, Paris, New York, Afghanistan and Brazil. These photographs are an integral part of his work.

Teacher: He also taught intermittently in Germany from 1970 to 1978. He then moved to Cologne, where he continued to live and work.

In 2010, Sigmar Polke was awarded the Haftmann Prize, the most lavishly endowed art award in Europe (150,000 Swiss francs, or €120,000), given by the Roswitha Haftmann Foundation, a Swiss foundation, to a "living artist who has produced work of primary importance."

Sigmar Polke died at the age of 69 on June 11, 2010.

"Any event, plastic or even historical, can turn against itself, to the point of meaning the exact opposite of what it was originally meant to express."


  1. Sigmar Polke
  2. Sigmar Polke
  3. ^ Sigmar Polke: Works on Paper 1963–1974, MOMA; ISBN .
  4. ^ Obituary: Sigmar Polke The Daily Telegraph.
  5. ^ Christopher Masters (14 June 2010), Sigmar Polke obituary The Guardian.
  6. a et b Guy Tosatto : Exposition Grenoble 2013-14, p. 10
  7. a et b Catalogue Exposition Nîmes 1994, p. 27
  8. Kathy Halbreich, Lanka Tattersall, Magnus Schäfer: Sigmar Polke. Alibis. 1963-2010. Hrsg.: Museum of Modern Art. New York 2014.
  9. Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Nr. 46 vom 17.11.1995, Hrsg. Magazin Verlagsgesellschaft Süddeutsche Zeitung mbH, München

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