Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)

Untitled (Elk)

Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Untitled (Elk)
signed and dated 'S. Polke 81' (centre right edge)
acrylic and spray enamel on plastic mounted on stretcher
62 x 54in. (157.5 x 137.2cm.)
Executed in 1981
H. Vetter and W. Vetter Collection, Münster and Zurich.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 4 May 1993, lot 43.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Sigmar Polke, 1984. no. 118 (illustrated in colour, p. 115).

Lot Essay

Combining a sequence of semi-representational splashes, strokes and swirls of paint poured and dripped in alternate directions both up and down the canvas, Untitled (Elk) is a multi-dimensional, semi-abstract painting that in part appears to suggest icy Nordic landscape by a lake. Over this suggested but undefined landscape structure made up of predominantly linear paint marks and brushstrokes sprayed and splattered onto the canvas, Polke has, seemingly more carefully and consciously, taken a silver line for a meandering walk in such a way that it forms the partial cartoon-like outline of a moose, elk or reindeer.

Such a fusion or confusion of figurative and abstract form is typical of Polke's work from his earliest paintings and is supposedly dictated by the commands of 'higher beings' or perhaps by the 'higher consciousness' of his own intuition which prompted flamingoes or palm trees for example to appear in his canvases for no apparent reason. It was the apparent, but for Polke in deceptive, arbitrariness of these images that he most valued, as this spoke to him of 'a world of free and equal phenomena' where 'things are finally allowed to form relationships' liberated 'from the bonds of servile text-book causality.' And it is this above all that his art seeks to assert in its play between chaotic and organized form.

In the early 1980s the strange fern-like forms of an elk's antlers appeared in several of Polke's paintings - an apparently random but also vaguely comic and calming natural figurative presence set into the midst of the chaotic abstract patterning of his brushwork as if it were a totemic animal appearing through the mists of an hallucinatory dream. As with his earlier 'related' images of flamingoes, palm trees and lamps for example, there is, Polke insisted, no accident in this.

'The fact that motifs such as flamingoes, purse-swinging ladies, snowdrops, kidney-shaped coffee-tables, monkey's tails, a certain floor lamp model, and palm trees are united in my pictures is neither coincidental nor arbitrary nor even the result of a mindless compilation! For although the popularly accepted wisdom of causalist science would claim that none of these phenomena has anything to do with the others, they entertain the closest of relationships and belong together, essentially and by all means. Let the superficial observer find as much difference among them as he may - the alert sense for relationships anticipates... the underlying relationship that binds these images together' (S. Polke, 'Early Influences, Late Consequences, or, How did the Monkeys Get Into My Work? And Other Icono-Biographical Questions', 1976, in P. Lange-Berndt and D. Rübel (ed.), Sigmar Polke: We Petty Bourgeois, Cologne 2011, p. 450).

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