Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTOR
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)

Mehl in der Wurst (Flour in the Sausage)

Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Mehl in der Wurst (Flour in the Sausage)
oil and lacquer on canvas
29 3/8 x 20 7/8in. (74.6 x 53cm.)
Executed in 1964
Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1980.
Tübingen, Kunsthalle, Sigmar Polke: Bilder-Tücher-Objekte-Werkauswahl 1962-1972, 1976, p. 155, no. 14 (illustrated, p. 14). This exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle and Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum.
Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Der gekrümmte Horizont- Kunst in Berlin 1945-1967, 1980, p. 119.
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.
Further details
We are most grateful to Mr. Michael Trier from the Estate of Sigmar Polke for the information he has kindly provided.

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Katharine Arnold
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Lot Essay

‘Many of Polke’s friends recall his unusual ability to see through the deceit, subterfuge, and artifice of polite society, to penetrate the trivialities of the status quo in order to make visible its unstable values. With an enormous economy he cut away the fatty niceties of good taste in images of burned bread, exotic palm trees few could afford to visit, and sausages adulterated with flour’

‘Resolutely ordinary in their subjects, Polke’s paintings from the mid-1960s are instantaneously legible, completely immediate, and uninvolved with the rituals and conventions of the world of art. They hit our consciousness directly, like a small bullet from a silenced gun’

Mehl in der Wurst (Flour in the Sausage) (1964) is a work from the height of Sigmar Polke’s involvement with ‘Capitalist Realism,’ the ironic German branch of Pop art he founded with Konrad Lueg and Gerhard Richter in 1963. A glistening green sausage hovers to the top left of a white canvas, emitting an unearthly cartoon glow of orange. The blank space below is carved up by two crossed purple lines, adjoining one of which is a triangular zone of fluid yellow-green that holds the words Mehl in der Wurst in neatly naïve burgundy script. Standing in stark contrast to the cleanly defined, triumphant and even celebratory imagery of American Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Polke’s work of this period depicted foodstuffs such as sausages, biscuits and chocolate with chill mundanity. A sardonic riposte to the Socialist Realism of communist East Germany, Capitalist Realism hijacked consumer advertising’s own pictorial strategies in order to lay it bare as just another form of hollow visual propaganda. ‘Flour in the sausage’ indicates that the sausage’s meat content has been bulked up with flour, underscoring a sense of the image’s mendacity: where we might expect a proud slogan, we instead see an unwelcome revelation, a lie exposed. The work equally highlights the vast differences between a prosperous 1960s America and a riven postwar Germany. The country was split between the Allied West, undergoing the Wirtschaftswunder or ‘economic miracle’, and an Eastern Bloc state still under rationing. Polke, whose family fled the GDR in 1953 when he was twelve years old and settled in Düsseldorf, had seen both sides. In this work the wurst – a staple as German as Warhol’s Coke bottle or Lichtenstein’s hot dog are American – is made an alienated hue, gleaming like a UFO and adrift in vacant space. This is a vision of Germany as divided, tragicomic and empty, its utopian dreams reduced to adulterated sausage.

The West German economic miracle saw purchasing power increase by 73% between 1950 and 1960. Amid this dramatic wave of affluence, much of German society settled into a mentality of complacent consumerism. Polke was deeply critical of the role of printed media – a cheap and powerful socialising force – in promoting this way of life, especially when austerity was such a recent reality for most of its viewers. Kathy Halbreich explains that ‘Even as the flood of consumer products in the 1950s operated like a narcotic, dulling memories of recent need and longing, there was a chill in the air. Increased prosperity had its own cost, and Germany, like postwar Japan, experienced what Ian Buruma has described as “bourgeois conformism … with its worship of the television set, the washing machine, and the refrigerator (‘The Three Sacred Treasures’), its slavish imitation of American culture, its monomaniacal focus on business, and the stuffy hierarchies of the academic and artistic establishments”’ (K. Halbreich, ‘Alibis: an Introduction’, in Sigmar Polke: Alibis, exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York 2014, p. 77). Polke and his Capitalist Realist colleagues sought to expose the mechanisms of this ‘bourgeois conformism’. They claimed in a 1963 statement that ‘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’ (S. Polke with M. Küttner, K. Lueg and G. Richter, ‘Letter to a Newsreel Company’, August 1963, in H.-U. Obrist (ed.), Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 16). Among Polke’s methods was to adopt a graphic shorthand of German socioeconomic symbols such as the wurst – painted with a deliberate charmless banality perhaps most unappetisingly exemplified by Der Wurstesser (The Sausage-Eater) (1963) – as vehicles for his biting satire.

Large white spaces occupy much of Polke’s 1960s work, often as oversized margins. These borders serve to emphasise Polke’s images (including his Rasterbilder, which he began making the same year as the present work) as visual quotations, presented as if cut out from magazines or newspapers. Martin Hentschel observes, furthermore, that ‘rather than pointing to the saturated consumerism of the sixties, the motif has much more to do with the still gaping gaps in the basics of everyday life in Germany in the fifties’ (M. Hentschel, ‘Solve et Coagula: On Sigmar Polke’s Work’, in Sigmar Polke: The Three Lies of Painting, exh. cat. Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublick Deutschland, Bonn 1997, p. 50). Mehl in der Wurst seems to share in this sense of privation, its green wurst offering only a queasy alternative to the vast white space in which it floats. The resulting image is a far cry from the seductive contours and graphic polish of a Warhol Coke bottle: the sausage is made absurd, isolated and otherworldly, and is defamed by its dismal caption. The purple lines create a haphazard compositional schism that seems to render arbitrary the division between East and West. This device also relates to works like Higher Powers Command: Paint the Upper Right Corner Black! (1969), in which Polke lampooned the transcendent ideals of American Abstract Expressionist and Colour Field painting.

Polke recalled reading issues of BÄCKERBLUME as a hungry child in East Germany. These illustrated pamphlets, distributed by the local bakers’ guild, clearly awakened a sense in the young artist of the power and promise of the printed image, as well as its capacity for deceit. ‘Among my most painful memories’, he said, ‘is that of long winter evenings after the currency reform, our family of four huddled together in joyful anticipation over the most recent issue of BÄCKERBLUME, elbowing each other in the ribs and pointing out what were referred to as “delicious rolls,” “seductive croissants,” “honest to goodness bread,” etc … My picture of the world was profoundly influenced by what I saw in these illustrated works ... my ... pictures would be inconceivable without them’ (S. Polke, quoted in F. W. Heubach, ‘Sigmar Polke: Early Influences, Later Consequences’, in Sigmar Polke: The Three Lies of Painting, exh. cat. Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublick Deutschland, Bonn 1997, pp. 285-286). Bitterly subverting such aspirational, wholesome and ultimately vacuous consumer imagery, Mehl in der Wurst inflects the prerogatives of Pop art with distinctly German flavour. Polke poses a cold inquest into his country’s sociocultural and economic climate, and, more broadly, into the political and commercial uses of representation; the result is a work of comic, caustic and bathetic impact.

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