SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
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SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)


SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
signed and dated 'Sigmar Polke 98' (on the reverse); signed and dated '« Sigmar Polke » 98' (on the stretcher)
acrylic and interference colour on canvas
43¼ x 35¼in. (110 X 90cm.)
Executed in 1998
Galleri Faurschou, Copenhagen.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2001.
Hjorring, Vendsyssels Kunstmuseum, Passion. The Rokkedal Collection, 2003 (illustrated in colour, p. 156). This exhibition later travelled to Hjorring, Museum Sophienholm.
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Lot Essay

‘While Gerhard Richter radically separated his ‘figurative’ paintings from his ‘abstract’ paintings, Polke always took great care not to favor one side over the other and to let these two pictorial paradigms interpenetrate and contaminate each other’ (B. Marcadé ,in Sigmar Polke, exh. cat., Musée de Grenoble, November 2013 - February 2014, p. 17).

As one approaches Sigmar Polke’s Untitled and moves around it, its surface texture and colour are unquenchable. Bathed in a brushed application of interference colour, this painting is constantly responding to changing light conditions and never standing still. Set upon the light-sensitive opalescent paint, abstracted dots merge to form the striking silhouette of a woman. Through a varied use of Polke’s signature raster motifs, we see her hand draped over the back of a chair arm, the wave of her hair, and texture of her stockings emerge from the tightly knit passages of black. Painted in 1998, Untitled melds Polke’s raster dot developed in the early 1960s with lessons learned in his explorations into abstraction in the 1980s to create a playful and open fusion of abstract, figurative, and modern mechanical means of illustration that appears to constantly change colour, form, and also meaning, according to the light conditions within which it is set.

Created in 1998, this painting was made the same year as Polke’s Druckfehler (Printing Mistake) series. Inspired by printing errors found in newspapers, the Druckfehler explored the relationship between the original image and the random quality of mistakes produced during printing. In these, Polke would enlarge the newsprint pattern onto a polyester surface, manipulating the newsprint before coating it in layers of resin. Untitled similarly embraces a chance aesthetic, one that is dictated by the translucent paints responding to changing light conditions, as the backdrop for his figurative images of appropriated newsprint. Mirroring the fluctuation of abstract surface, the pivoting figure reiterates that this constantly changing image fully embraces flux as the only true condition of reality. Shifting between abstraction and figuration, the atmospheric wash of paint in the background interacts with the varied use of dot-forms to powerfully evoke multiple senses of reality. As Bernard Marcadé writes, ‘While Gerhard Richter radically separated his ‘figurative’ paintings from his ‘abstract’ paintings, Polke always took great care not to favor one side over the other and to let these two pictorial paradigms interpenetrate and contaminate each other’ (B. Marcadé in Sigmar Polke, Exh. Cat., Musée de Grenoble, November 2013 - February 2014, p. 17).

Revisiting his signature motifs, Polke employs his distinctive raster-dots to new effect by modulating the dots, allowing them to bleed and waver, subversively echoing and commenting upon his own visual investigations of German Pop art in the 1960s. Compounding his painterly appropriation of a mechanical technique with figurative imagery derived from other printed media, the raster not only demonstrated the manifest falsity of the image they carried - and the fact that this image was ultimately not real at all but one constructed in the mind of the viewer, but they also became painterly suggestions of another, alternate, abstract reality of their own making. As Donald Kuspit has said of Polke’s work in this respect, the artist makes use of dots as a kind of ‘abstract, if mechanical process—to punch holes in the representation of social reality’ and undermine ‘the image they form—suggesting that [the imagery they present] is a mass deception’ (D. Kuspit, quoted in Sigmar Polke: Alibis, exh. cat, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 74). Dressed in lingerie, the figure of woman conjures references to political scandal and indiscretions that were populating the pages of German newspapers at the time; the ambiguous nature of her role further dislocated by the juxtaposition against the banal imagery of the houseplant. The unlikely companion to the sultry woman, the motif of the houseplant stands as an icon of the domestic consumerism, a counterpoint to Polke’s iconic palm tree motif which represented unreachable exotic destinations and the unattainable pleasures of consumerism in postwar Germany.

Employing chemical interaction, hidden structure and multiple viewpoints, Untitled constantly changes to offer an infinitely rich variety of visual phenomena. A commercially available paint incorporating the light reflective mineral Mica, ‘interference colour’ reflects different metallic looking colours according to the nature of the light that falls upon it. In this way, as the light conditions change, or as the viewer moves around the painting, the Mica reflects differently and the colour-patterns on the painting flicker and change. In contrast to the effects established through abstract paintings from the decade prior where he dripped and poured interference paint, the present work introduces depth into the incredibly flat surface through an overall layer of interference colour. Allowing a border of pearlescent colour, the rectangular motif of raster-dot appears to float upon the surface, the torn edge of the newsprint is emphasized. Replicating the crumpled folds of the paper, the wavering dots heighten our awareness of the original print source, and the mechanical printing technique to build a demonstrably fabricated and artificial image.

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 re-evaluate 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. Fusing these incongruous motifs and techniques together like so much of Polke’s deliberately eclectic work, the elusive woman at the heart of this interactive and constantly changing painting speaks of an unknown and perhaps unknowable world.

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