Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more HOMAGE TO CHILLIDA
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)

Carbon für E. Ch.

Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Carbon für E. Ch.
i) and ii) signed and dated 'Sigmar Polke 2001' (lower left); signed, titled and dated '"Carbon für E. Ch" Sigmar Polke' (on the reverse)
iii) signed and dated 'Sigmar Polke 2001' (lower left and upper right); signed, titled and dated 'Sigmar Polke "Carbon für E. Ch"' (on the reverse)
mixed media on cardboard, in three parts
each: 78¾ x 59 1/8in. (200 x 150cm.)
Executed in 2001
Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003.
Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Homenaje a Chillida, 2006, p. 461 (illustrated in colour, pp. 240-241).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Lot Essay

Executed in 2001, Carbon für E. Ch is a vast six metre long triptych dedicated by Sigmar Polke to Eduardo Chillida. The mercurial product of a subtle range of media on a black cardboard background, the work is one of a series of paintings attempting to portray life and the cosmos at the molecular level that Polke made in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Other works of this nature such as Elementary Building Material (1998) and the interestingly titled There is Nothing More Real than Pictures You Can't Get Out of Your Mind (1998) that depict the structures of a carbon atom, formed a key part of Polke's 2002-2003 solo show at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Tate Modern. In its invoking of the central building-block of all life (carbon), the subject-matter of Carbon für E. Ch is also an appropriate one for a work which Polke intended to dedicate to the sculptor and 'architect of the void', Chillida.

Carbon für E. Ch comprises three black panels displaying a sequence of mysterious abstract patterns looking like radio-active emanations from another, possibly microcosmic world. In two of the panels these abstract patterns are the result of a poured chemical mixture that, seemingly luminous in nature, radiates with unnatural light and speaks of the unseen and fluid interaction of all matter. In the third panel which displays two intersecting black rectangles shimmering in front of a similar greenish iridescence, a sense of organized geometric form is simply asserted.

Together, like so much of Polke's deliberately eclectic work, this impressive sequence of disparate but similarly coloured images speaks of an unknown and perhaps unknowable world of chance-generated form, chemical interaction, hidden structure and mystery as well as of multiple viewpoints, constant change and of the infinitely rich variety of visual phenomena.

Such elements - enigma, uncertainty, a sense of flux, simultaneity and of values constantly shifting and reforming themselves - were the central features of all Polke's painting since the 1960s. They reflect the artist's unique and sometimes mystical take on the impenetrable and fascinating mysteries of the image-laden surface of experience that we have come to call 'reality'. Using the artificial surface of his own pictures as a magical arena within which to reevaluate this and as a multi-layered meeting place of such constantly shifting imagery, Polke also seeks to awaken a similar sense of awe and wonder before this fascinating, and moreover true, perceptual mystery in the viewer.

Working in the manner of a modern-day alchemist, Polke developed a pseudo-scientific and programmatic approach to the making of his work, one that took its cure from Werner Heisenberg's 'Uncertainty Principle'. This fundamental law of particle physics, first established in the 1920s, asserts that 'the more precisely that the position of an entity is determined, the less precisely its momentum is known'. Among the wider repercussions of this principle is the understanding that reality is neither a fixed nor stable phenomenon, but one that reveals itself only in a series of shifting contexts. Polke, who came to appreciate Heisenberg's principle through his exploratory use of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s and '70s, was not only one of the first artists to recognise this but also to knowingly set about founding his pictures on simultaneous and multiple views of reality colliding within the fixed environment of the picture plane. In addition, Polke sought out deliberately unstable, interactive and constantly changing materials with which to work; materials such as transparent lacquer and resin, interference colours and a variety of solvents, acids and photographically sensitive chemicals that changed with the effects of light, heat, moisture and other external stimuli upon them. Nothing, Polke believed could, or ever should, be seen to, be independent from anything else in his work if it was to claim to provide a real approximation of the true nature of reality.

'It is clear' Polke once wrote, 'that a progressive scientific approach like my own can no longer concern itself with boorish causalities or self-satisfied reasons but must focus instead upon relationships, since without relationships, even causality itself might just as well pack up and leave, and every reason would be without consequence. Thus in my scientific work I concentrated upon the exploration of those relationships which genuinely bind things together, beyond their tendentious subdivision into 'causes' and 'effects'... This whole system of classifying things as causes and effects must come to an end! We must create a world of free and equal phenomena, 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... (for) only in these relationships is it possible to find the true meaning and the true order of things' (S. Polke, 'Early Influences, Later Consquences...,' reproduced in Sigmar Polke -The Three Lies of Painting, exh. cat., Munich, 1997, pp. 289-290).

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