Sigmar Polke grew up in post-war Germany, a country obsessed with the possibilities of a new German identity that could materialize from the concept of "Wirtschaftswunder." Translated as "economic miracle," the idea as well as the image that it projected contributed to a new sense of nationalism and self-confidence.
In Leute Wie Du und Ich (People Like You and Me), Polke portrays this identity through his use of classic stereotypes: the happy hardworking housewife, the serious and successful businessman, a father holding his daughter and a beautiful couple sitting on the beach, to name a few. Cliched, old-fashioned images of women are particularly dominant and given the greatest prominance and scale in the composition. Such images project an image of a "new" Germany, made possible by a hard working country bound together in this new economy, albeit through traditional roles.
Interestingly enough, Polke's images also remind us of the state-sponsored art that was created in Eastern Germany (the former DDR) and other former Socialist countries. Both political systems projected similar ideal images of the human being. People like you and me also reflects a Socialist government's ideal society. Whether an ideal society is best achieved by the "Wirtschaftswunder," or the "State Driven Economy" from the countries behind the Iron Curtain, Polke doesn't tell us. Nonetheless, we recognize that these images don't illustrate life as typical people experience it. The title, therefore, betrays the artist's highly cynical critique of a system which, in fact, does not achieve an ideal society full of shiny, happy people.
Polke painted the present work in 1988, one year before the Berlin Wall came down. Although the capitalist economic system prevailed over the state socialist economies, once again a new unified Germany tried to portray its new society by using the same metaphors as both previous governments had done in the fifties and sixties. The new Germany, however, remains a flawed society as any other, with its citizens living a far more complicated reality than illustrated in Polke's tongue-in-cheek ideal world, People Like You and Me.