Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 1… Read more SIGMAR POLKE - 1941-2010 The sudden death of Sigmar Polke in June 2010 robbed the art world of one of its greatest pioneers, at the age of 69. Originally a maverick conceptualist and German Pop artist, Polke never obeyed the strict principles of either movement and instead used the founding theories as the basis for a widespread exploration of culture and materials. He bridged so many different movements and theories and experimented with so many different media constantly challenging the boundaries of high art, painting and global culture. Just this month, Jorg Heiser, co-editor of Frieze, christened a new theory of artistic practice which he sees developing in cities around the world: Super Hybridity, and one of its key artistic Godfathers as Sigmar Polke. He commented, "In recent years, a number of artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers have dramatically increased the number of cultural contexts they tap into when producing work as well as the pace at which they do so... This phenomenon could be termed 'super-hybridity' and is obviously to do with the dynamics of globalisation, digital technology, the Internet and capitalism... The phenomenon of super-hybridity hasn't come out of the blue...Its more openly polemical - yet fragile - side was pioneered by artists who refused to take any medium, genre or discipline for granted... [such as] Sigmar Polke"' (J. Heiser, 'Pick & Mix, What is 'super-hybridity'?, p. 13, Frieze, issue 133, September 2010 & 'Analyze This', pp. 94-102, op. cit., p. 96). Polke's wide influence on global art and the wider culture grew by the year whilst he was alive and will no doubt continue to gather apace. His greatest asset was his inventive mind and devil-may-care attitude. Known as 'the alchemist', he made multilayered works from materials that included paint, lacquer, screenprint and plastic sheeting. Additionally, his media ranged from film and photography to watercolour, gouache and various forms of drawing. Never satisfied with the traditional modulation of things, his restless approach to materials and creative genius led him down avenues that defied convention. As if to emphasise his independence from history or convention, he sometimes used ephemeral substances, such as fruit juices, beeswax and candle smoke, or sprinkled grains of meteorite or arsenic over canvases covered with resin. In the early 1970s, Polke took to the road, snapping photographs of gay bars in Brazil, bear fights and opium smokers in Afghanistan and later photographing in south-east Asia and Australia. Just like Alighiero Boetti, that other trailblazing pioneer of global art in the 1970s, Polke was consuming the culture within his own. Whilst his hand-painted photographs made at the time were the outstanding works of his travels, it is the encyclopedic paintings made since, the 'caustic paintings [which] brilliantly cross-bred images of Texas gun culture with blow-ups of post-9/11 German newspaper illustrations, including The Hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda - rendered as a colossal, grisailled machine painting on fabric', (B. Adams, 'On the Road to a State of Grace', Tate, Summer 2008, issue 13 reproduced at www.tate.org.uk) which stand as the most extraordinary cross-breedings of global culture. An exile from East Germany who moved west early in his life, Polke created imagery that was implicitly critical of both communism and capitalism. From his early life in what is now Poland, to Berlin and Krefeld to an apprenticeship in a stained-glass factory in Dusseldorf, Polke went on to study under Joseph Beuys at the Dusseldorf State Academy. Eventually his travels East allowed him to reflect on the complexities of the profound social changes that took place during his life. His life and art were truly unique and he leaves behind an astounding body of work, the importance of which we are only just beginning to understand. Francis Outred THE PROPERTY OF AN AMERICAN COLLECTOR
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)

Das Paar (The Couple)

Details
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Das Paar (The Couple)
signed and dated 'Polke 65' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
15¾ x 21 1/8in. (40 x 53.6cm.)
Painted in 1965
Provenance
Rene Block Collection, Berlin.
Ulf Bischof, Bonn.
Galerie Schönewald und Beuse, Krefeld.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998.
Exhibited
Berlin, Galerie Rene Block, Sigmar Polke, 1968-1969.
Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, Rene Block Collection, 1992, no. 365 (illustrated in colour, p. 72).
This exhibition later travelled to Helsinki, Museet for Nutidskunst; Reykjavik, Listasafn Islands and Nurnberg, Kunsthalle.
Special notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 17.5% on the buyer's premium.

Brought to you by

Alice de Roquemaurel
Alice de Roquemaurel

Lot Essay

'I like the way that the dots in a magnified picture swim and move about...The way that motifs change from recognisable to unrecognisable, the undecided, ambiguous nature of the situation, the way it remains open...lots of dots vibrating, resonating, blurring, re-emerging, thoughts of radio signals, radio pictures and television come to mind.' (S. Polke, quoted in D. Hismanns, 'Kultur des Rasters. Ateliergespräch mit dem Maler Sigmar Polke,' Rheinische Post, 10 May 1966).

Painted in 1965 at the height of Sigmar Polke's involvement with the ironic version of Pop Art entitled 'Capitalist Realism' that he founded with fellow artists Gerhard Richter, Mannfred Kuttner and Konrad Lueg, Das Paar (The Couple) is a rare and highly important colour example of his first 'Rasterbilder' (Raster-dot paintings).

Through a complex abstract maze of large colourful dots hand-painted on a white canvas background, the vague and also apparently banal image of a society couple in full evening dress posing for the camera can be perceived. Their image hovers on the borderlines of recognition in a strange pictorial realm that lies halfway between abstraction and figuration in a way that seems to reference the inadequacies of all reproductive media, and, like some poor quality colour television image struggling to transmit, seems ultimately to vibrate with its own playful energy.

Polke's Rasterbilder are works that deliberately exploited the rasterdot technique of printing as a way of subverting and bringing into question the apparent truth, validity and purpose of the media images that his paintings of the early 1960s often appropriated. In the 1960s the rastering process was the sole printing process available to the commercial media for the reproduction of a clear photographic image. Using screens of tiny dots, lines and other patterns were layered onto a lined plate in order to give the printed image an appearance of tone.

When viewed, these tones combined in the mind's eye to form a cohesive and recognisable image. In the newspapers and magazines of the time, the abstract dotted surface of a printed image still remained visible to the naked eye, but despite the evident artifice of this medium, the mechanically-produced image, like the periodicals themselves, still carried with it an authority that it portrayed a true and accurate picture of the world. It was this authority that Polkes Rasterbilder consciously challenged. In them the artist deliberately and painstakingly manipulated the raster technique painting by hand, magnifying the dots and distorting them, as in Das Paar to the point of absurdity, so as to create a clear and playful ambiguity that disrupts the cohesiveness of the image and opened it up to new ways of being understood. Anticipating much of his later work with the layering of multiple imagery, in his Rasterbilder Polke threw the process by which we see and interpret the world wide open by exposing and revealing the essentially artificial and abstract methods by which all imagery is understood.

This deliberate upsetting of the clarity and stability of the image was in part a political act. Unlike Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein-the two American Pop artists whose similar adoption and manipulation of media imagery at this time was perhaps closest to that of the self-named 'Capitalist Realists' Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter - the German artists' decision to paint from photography embodied an element of protest. Where Warhol and Lichtenstein celebrated the mass media, elevating its imagery and means of reproduction to the status and realm of 'high art', Polke and Richter's work was always more of a critique or an expos. The essential reason for this was one of the cultural differences that existed between America and West Germany at this time. After twelve years of Nazi rule and the subsequent partition of the country into East and West, Germany had found itself at the heart of the ideological battle of the Cold War. As a result, and in direct contrast to those living in 'the Land of the Free', many young West Germans had an innate distrust of the media as an authoritarian tool of propaganda that was borne out by long experience. Indeed, after years of Nazi and Socialist propaganda, Germans had a very different attitude towards media imagery to the Americans, effectively associating all representational imagery and figurative art with authoritative rule. For Polke, the Rasterbilder offered a new form of representation that avoided such narrow authoritarian ideology by operating in an area of clear ambiguity and freedom.

Polke's special fascination with dots also lay in their relationship to modern science's view of the world as an essentially chaotic and abstract realm made up entirely of particles and waves. Enigma, uncertainty, a sense of flux, simultaneity and of values constantly shifting and reforming themselves - these, as in the world of radio waves and of quantum physics, are the central features of Polkes art and reflect the artist's unique and sometimes mystical take on the impenetrable and fascinating mysteries of the image-laden surface of experience that we call 'reality'. Using the artificial surface of his own pictures as an arena within which to reevaluate this and as a multi-layered meeting place of such shifting imagery, Polke seeks to open up and awaken a similar sense of this fascinating perceptual mystery in the viewer.

In Das Paar, as in another colourful rasterbild from this period, Die Freundinnen, Polke has taken the raster technique to the point where it completely subordinates the subject matter of the painting to the manner and style of its execution. In both cases he has taken a media photograph, here complete with a caption that is hitherto rendered illegible, and by magnifying the raster technique of its reproduction, accentuated the artifice of the raster medium to the point where its mechanics not only cease to function, but also enter into the playful and intuitive realm of the painters' art. Seemingly excited by the abstract patterning of dots that the raster image plays out before his eyes, Polke here, as he was later to do with the mathematics in his Lösungen (Answers), makes deliberately false connections between the building blocks of the picture, fusing them together into strange irrational patterns. Like a spanner in the works of the machine, these are mad patterns that appear to playfully assert the artist's need form freedom, individuality and independence at the same time that they subvert the banal authoritarian media imagery on which they are based.


'I love all dots, ...with many dots I am married. I want all dots to be happy. The dots are my brothers. I am also a dot. Earlier we used to play together, today everybody goes their own way. We only meet now and again at family gatherings and ask: how are you?'
(S. Polke, quoted in Sigmar Polke, exh. cat., Hannover 1966, p. 35).

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All