Sigmar Polke’s Leise rieselt der Schnee... es fehlt ein bisschen Ehrgeist (1973) is a typically riotous layering of ribald humour, visual punning and German folklore by one of post-War Europe’s greatest artistic tricksters. Outlined in black ink is the body of a man in a blazer and patterned tie; flies open, he masturbates, holding in his other hand a sculpture or image of a voluptuous naked woman. Overlaying this scene in blue are the words ‘es fehlt ein bischen Ergeist / Leise rieselt der Schnee.’ The first line translates roughly as ‘it lacks a little ambition,’ but switches ‘ambition’ – ‘Ergeiz’ – for ‘Ergeist,’ creating a pun on the word ‘ghost;’ the second line means ‘Softly falls the snow,’ the title of a festive children’s song. This verbal jest is heightened by an accompanying crew of smiling snowmen-ghosts, a smattering of blue droplets, two schematic snowflakes to the left and right, and a trio of tools – hammers and pliers – at the composition’s centre.
Polke’s playful destruction of traditional pictorial expectations was informed partly by the psychedelic journeys through Europe and Asia that he took in the 1970s, whose hallucinogenic influence can be clearly felt in the present work. ‘We must create a world of free and equal phenomena,’ he wrote, ‘a world in which things are finally allowed to form relationships once again, relationships liberated from the bonds of servile text-book causality and narrow-minded, finger-pointing consecution ... only in these relationships is it possible to find the true meaning and the true order of things’ (S. Polke, ‘Early Influences, Later Consequences,’ in Sigmar Polke - The Three Lies of Painting, exh. cat. Berlin, 1997, p. 290). In his juggling of simultaneous visions, Polke shook the very foundations of art and sought a new, pluralist truth. Leise rieselt der Schnee… is rich in his disjunctive wit and revels in the wild, surreal power of metaphor and cross-communication; as is often the case with good jokes, it reveals more than the sum of its parts.