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

Ohne Titel (Bunnies)

SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
Ohne Titel (Bunnies)
signed and dated 'Sigmar Polke 2000' (lower left); signed and dated again 'Sigmar Polke 2000' (on the reverse)
acrylic on paper
78 ¾ x 59 in. (200 x 150 cm.)
Executed in 2000.
Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Düsseldorf, Galerie Schmela, Sigmar Polke: Arbeiten auf Papier, February-April 2005 (illustrated on the exhibition invitation).
Schleswig-Holstein, Stiftung Schleswig Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Schloß Gottdorf, Fixterne: 100 Jahre Kunst auf Papier, Adolph Menzel bis Kiki Smith, May-September 2009, pp. 150-151 (illustrated).
Oberstdorf, Kunsthaus Villa Jauss, Wunder auf Papier, über 100 Jahre Zeichenkunst, July-October 2010 (illustrated in color on the back cover).
Torun, Centre of Contemporary Art, Painting Still Alive, November 2018-January 2019, p. 389 (illustrated).
Further details
We are grateful to Michael Trier for the cataloging information he has kindly provided.

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Lot Essay

One of the leading provocateurs of the Düsseldorf avant-garde, Sigmar Polke’s tireless investigation of painting in the face of mass media and the contradictions of capitalism has inspired countless artists over his decades-long career. Untitled (Bunnies), realized just ten years before the artist’s death, is a biting amalgam of Pop sensibilities and painterly gusto. Revisiting his past catalogue, Polke digs into his now-signature raster-dot process to update his investigation of mechanical reproduction and the use of appropriated imagery. Whereas American Pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein embraced the Ben-Day dot as a challenge to the artist’s hand and Andy Warhol fully immersed himself in silkscreening techniques, Polke was more interested in the errors and faults inherent in a rapid production process. "Polke literally and metaphorically dissects and dissolves images… all the while raising philosophical questions deeply concerned with not only the way images look and are made but also the possible and probable slippages, uncertainties, and misperceptions that can occur when we apprehend them” (C. Wylie, cited in: Sigmar Polke, History of Everything, Paintings and Drawings 1998-2002, exh. cat., Dallas Museum of Art, 2003, pp. 12-13). By enlarging his found images and pairing them with washes of abstract color, Polke creates a visual tremor that pushes the picture in and out of focus while also problematizing the perfection we so often apply to automated systems.
Presented larger than life-size, a group of five scantily-clad women turn to their side and look out at the viewer. Reduced to a network of black dots that recalls the Ben-Day dot techniques used in commercial printing, the figures oscillate in our eye as they become more or less visually substantial. Behind this vibrating image are swathes of color that compete for our attention. A large brown patch eases up from the bottom left flanked by tan and light yellow. This area merges with strokes of pink, green, and the occasional blue and gray. By creating an optically rich backdrop, Polke is able to ask questions about painting and representation without dwelling only on the recognizable subject. As Bernard Marcadé notes, “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, cited in: Sigmar Polke, exh. cat., Musée de Grenoble, November 2013 - February 2014, p. 17). It is this contamination that elicits such a strong visual reaction in works like Bunnies, a fact that is amplified when the work is viewed up close on a grand scale.
Making use of Polke’s iconic raster system, Bunnies is the stylistic successor to the artist’s early forays into figural compositions. Specifically, the now-iconic Bunnies (1966) and Girlfriends (1965-66), both of which also present pinup models dressed in lingerie, draw upon imagery the artist culled from images of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy clubs and magazine. The present work continues to make use of similar source material while dissolving the visual information even further through the use of layers of color and mixed material that fight the black dots for prominence. Polke remarked early on about this process and his affinity for it, saying, "The raster is for me a system, a principle, a method, structure. It decomposes, distributes, orders, and equalizes everything. I like the way that the dots in a magnified picture swim and move about. The way that the subject changes from recognizable to unrecognizable, the undecided, ambiguous situation, the way it remains open [...] Many dots vibrating, swinging, blurring, reappearing: one could think of radio signals, telegraphic images, television come to mind’ (S. Polke, quoted in D. Hülsmanns, “Kulter des Rasters: Ateliergerspräch mit dem Maler Sigmar Polke”, Rheinische Post, 10 May, 10 1966). One knows the subject of the painting immediately, but the longer we try to ascertain the shape of the pervasive colorfields, the easier it is to disassociate the raster dots from anything recognizable.
Polke’s early work, and the crux of his career-long investigation, was based on a distinctly postwar German reaction to American capitalism. Escaping from East Germany in 1953 at the age of twelve, he settled first in West Berlin and then in Düsseldorf in 1959 where he eventually enrolled at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. There he studied under Joseph Beuys and became friends with Gerhard Richter. In 1963, together with their classmate Konrad Lueg (Fischer), Polke and Richter undertook an action/installation at a furniture store that they titled Capitalist Realism. A concerted reaction to the same ideas investigated by American Pop, the artists displayed their own pieces alongside furniture and appliances in an effort to muddy boundaries between consumer goods and the art world. However, while Pop embraced the glossy sheen of American products and their advertisements, Polke reveled in the detritus and excess of mass production. Working to commingle the posed perfection of the printed page with a gritty reality, the artist seized on imperfection as a way to snap the viewer out of their capitalist reverie.

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