SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
3 More
SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)


SIGMAR POLKE (1941-2010)
signed and dated ‘S. Polke 98’ (lower right); signed and dated ‘S. Polke 98’ (on the reverse)
pigment, artificial resin and wire-mesh fabric on polyester fabric, in artist’s frame
53 x 60 ¾in. (134.6 x 154.3cm.)
Executed in 1998
Michael Werner Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Anon. sale, Christie’s New York, 12 May 2004, lot 190.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
P. Schjeldahl, ‘The Trashmaster’, in The New Yorker, 7 & 14 December 1998, vol. 74, issue 38 (illustrated in colour, p. 207).
New York, Michael Werner Gallery, Sigmar Polke Druckfehler 1996-98, 1998-1999, no. 21. This exhibition later travelled to Cologne, Galerie Michael Werner.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A kaleidoscopic mirage of surface, screen, image and abstraction, Untitled (1998) is a mesmerising example of Sigmar Polke’s Druckfehler (‘Printing Mistakes’) series. It was debuted in an exhibition at Michael Werner Gallery, New York, in 1998: others from the show are now held in major museum collections, including the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Buffalo; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal. The present work depicts three figures—a policeman with a bicycle, a smiling woman and a young man—outlined in Polke’s trademark raster-dots, which mimic the appearance of halftone printing. Polke painted them on the reverse of the polyester support, which is rendered honey-coloured and translucent by layers of resin. The front is further overlaid with a scrim of golden mesh, and washed in liquid colour. Dark blooms fill the policeman’s uniform, and the young man, haloed in milky white splashes, glows a vibrant red. A fourth figure, raster-dotted in black on white, sprints in front of him as if fleeing the picture. Exemplary of his complex, chameleonic and many-layered vision, the work stems from a high point in Polke’s career. As well as the Michael Werner show, 1998 saw the conclusion of his landmark retrospective The Three Lies of Painting, which had opened at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn before travelling to the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.

The Three Lies of Painting’s two venues represented a symbolic move from the old centre of West Germany to the post-reunification capital of Germany. The nation’s shifting borders and identities were formative for Polke, who was born in Silesia—today part of Poland—in 1941. The German population was expelled in 1945, and his family fled to East Germany before emigrating to the West in 1953. As a student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in the early 1960s, Polke met Gerhard Richter. The two critiqued the promises of the Western post-war economic miracle in a sharp, Pop-like mode they called ‘Capitalist Realism,’ which led to Polke’s first raster-dot works. He took a more experimental turn in the 1970s, exploring mind-expanding hallucinogens and psychedelic photography while living in a commune outside Düsseldorf. The following decades saw him travelling the world and employing a dizzying array of materials in his works, from meteor dust to uranium, detergent, photocopies and printed fabrics. The raster-dot remained something of a constant. So, too, did his interest in translucency, which had its roots in a youthful apprenticeship at a stained-glass factory. Uniting Polke’s heterogeneous output was a fundamental mistrust of the fixed or single viewpoint, and an embrace of the unending richness of visual phenomena.

Polke’s Druckfehler works took their starting point from printing errors: warps, blurs, off-register images, specks of dust or strands of hair caught in the press. He collected examples where he found them in newspapers, zooming in on them to the point of abstraction, and created others himself by dragging pages through a photocopier. These flaws and mutations were precisely the kind of accidents that delighted Polke. Just as the raster-dots—which he saw as fundamental particles of visual matter—could come apart or cohere into any image, so too could new apparitions emerge from the supposed order of the mechanical printing process. Some of the Druckfehler look like petri-dishes, blossoming with microscopic flora. Others depict the structure of a carbon atom, conflating Polke’s dots and lattices with the building blocks of life itself.

Ambiguous and playful, the present painting stages a formal stand-off between order and chaos. The anodyne picture of the policeman and citizens is offset by the sprinting escapee. The gridded networks of dots and mesh are out of sync; both are disrupted by Polke’s pours of unruly, free-flowing liquid pigment. Even the frame cannot contain the picture, which, with its amber-like translucency, casts shadows and silhouettes onto the wall behind it. Reviewing the 1998 exhibition, Holland Cotter compared the mesh to the metal strung through reinforced security glass. Peter Schjeldahl was reminded of chicken-wire. Looking at some of the Druckfehler in 2003, when they were shown at Tate Modern as part of Polke’s exhibition History of Everything, Adrian Searle saw ‘a honeycomb pattern, a cellular structure, or a semi-transparent pattern of scales, like sloughed snakeskin’ (A. Searle, ‘Moving Targets’, The Guardian, 1 October 2003). These compound associations capture the alchemical magic of Polke’s outlook, in which nothing is quite as it seems, and images and systems are apt to transform before our very eyes.

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