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Sigmar Polke (b. 1941)
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VA… Read more German Capitalist Realism In 1963, Gerhard Richter wrote his 'Letter to a Newsreel Company,' outlining the intentions and beliefs lying behind a new exhibition in Dusseldorf that featured his own works alongside those of his friend and partner in crime, Sigmar Polke, as well as those of Konrad Lueg (later the gallerist Konrad Fischer) and Manfred Kuttner. This groundbreaking exhibition marked a milestone in the development of a new avant-garde in Germany. Overlooked by many, it is now seen as a crucial moment at the birth of an entire aspect of German Post-War art. The exhibition took place in an abandoned building scheduled for destruction. Richter's letter was an semi-formal manifesto in its own right: 'We take the liberty of drawing your attention to an unusual group of young painters with an unusual exhibition. We are exhibiting in Dusseldorf, on former shop premises in the section of Kaiserstrasse that is due for demolition. This exhibition is not a commercial undertaking but purely a demonstration, and no gallery, museum or public exhibiting body would have been a suitable venue. 'The major attraction of the exhibition is the subject matter of the works in it. For the first time in Germany, we are showing paintings for which such terms as Pop Art, Junk Culture, Imperialist or Capitalist Realism, New Objectivity, Naturalism, German Pop and the like are appropriate. Pop Art recognizes the modern mass media as a genuine cultural phenomenon and turns their attributes, formulations and content, through artifice, into art. It thus fundamentally changes the face of modern painting and inaugurates an aesthetic revolution. Pop Art has rendered conventional painting - with all its sterility, its isolation, its artificiality, its taboos and its rules - entirely obsolete, and has rapidly achieved international currency and recognition by creating a new view of the world. 'Pop Art is not an American invention, and we do not regard it as an import - though the concepts and terms were mostly coined in America and caught on more rapidly there than here in Germany. This art is pursuing its own organic and autonomous growth in this country; the analogy with American Pop Art stems from those well-defined psychological, cultural and economic factors that are the same here as they are in America' (Richter, Letter to a newsreel company, 29 April 1963, quoted in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting. Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, trans. David Britt, London 1995, p. 16). And so Capitalist Realism was born. Of all the isms mentioned in Richter's list, this was the one to which he and Lueg returned later the same year with their exhibition, Life with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism in which they appropriated the entirety of a Berges department store in Dusseldorf. Throughout the shop were installations, objects, paintings and actions, Richter himself sitting on a sofa on a pedestal, reading a detective novel with a documentary on the television in the background. Littered around the place were the works of Winston Churchill as well as the antlers from stags supposedly shot between 1938 and 1942. These details are crucial to the illustration of the vital gaps between American Pop and its German cousin. Richter and Polke had both experienced life on each side of the Iron Curtain. They had lived through the Second World War. The tension between Communism and Capitalism was a reality that they had lived directly. Politics, which is usually only tangentially apparent in the works of the American Pop artists, was a day to day reality for their German contemporaries. For Richter, this had been heightened by his time as an art student in East Germany, where Socialist Realism was the preferred, indeed prescribed, course. In the West, he had had an epiphany when confronted with the works of Pollock, Fontana, Duchamp, Beuys... These had suggested ways of dealing with art and its legacy that had been entirely closed to him before. Highlighting the distance between American Pop and the position taken by these Capitalist Realists, Richter explained that, 'I had very little interest in any critique of packaged culture or the consumer world' (Richter, quoted in ibid., p. 117). The interests of German Capitalist Realism are clearly more cynical than those of the Americans. Richter and Polke's pictures do not crackle with the energy of advertising. Instead, they strip away the veneers of those consumer iconographies. They undermine, and they do so in a deliberately and all the more subversively understated way. Richter's paintings taken from photographs show an assault on the traditional hierarchies of value. The humble snapshot is elevated to the status of a painting. This is Pop enacted on a distinctly personal and domestic scale, and it is through this that the works of Richter and Polke appear, as cool, cynical infiltrations, as assaults on our consumerist values in a buy buy buy and throwaway culture.
Sigmar Polke (b. 1941)


Sigmar Polke (b. 1941)
signed and dated 'S. Polke 77' (lower right)
acrylic on printed paper
25 1/8 x 32 5/8in. (63.8 x 82.8cm.)
Executed in 1977
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 15 May 2003, lot 158.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
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