DescriptionSigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Acrylic and mixed media on paper
27-1/2 x 39-1/2 inches (69.9 x 100.3 cm) (sheet)
Signed and dated lower left: Sigmar Polke 1997
Artax Kunsthandel KG, Düsseldorf;
Private collection, California, acquired from the above, March 2000.
Untitled (1997) illustrates Sigmar Polke's highly original Pop Art aesthetic shaped by his post-War life in Germany. In 1945, Polke's family fled present-day Poland for East Germany, and after the Soviet occupation of this country, they escaped to West Germany, where the artist grew up. Responding to the divisive political climate in Germany, Polke and a small group of artists launched "Capitalist Realism" in 1963. Polke used unconventional techniques in a broad range of media to depict ordinary items from mass culture, such as Schokoladenbild (Chocolate Painting) from 1964. The art historian Kathrin Rottmann underscores, "Polke's layering and overlapping of borrowed images, so that their meanings come unfixed and enter a state of flux, have been described as 'postmodern play'" ("Polke in Context: A Chronology," in Alibis, 2014, p. 41). In fact, "he was widely viewed as a contrarian without a recognizable style, and he liked that" (Ibid., p. 66). Both his position vis-à-vis the art world and his interest in experimentation are crucial to understanding Untitled.
Additionally, Polke's use of hallucinogenic drugs during the 1970s raised his interest in color as a mind-altering medium. Untitled, combining several media in "unstable" layers of brown, green, pink, blue and purple, simulates a psychedelic trip. These blurred color effects also appear in his more conventional paintings of the 1980s and 1990s. In particular, Untitled is reminiscent of Polke's seventeen-part contribution to the Süddeutsche Zeitung's weekly magazine in 1995. In Bulletproof Holidays (Kugelsichere Ferien), "enlarged raster dots and circles begin to blur.... He employed colored pencils and felt markers to apply to these photocopies glowing neon colors that the magazine's printers were unable to reproduce. The dots in this work recall the raster paintings (Rasterbilder) based on illustrations in newspapers that Polke made in the 1960s, such as Doughnuts/Berliner (Bäckerblume, 1965)" (Ibid., p. 53).
Interestingly, the scattered dots in Untitled form a pattern that lacks precision; indeed, they seem to slide. Together with the mixed media, this dot patterning emphasizes Polke's interest in the derangement of the senses. Examining his biography offers a potential explanation for this concern: growing up in a period when many Germans deflected blame for the atrocities of the Nazis by feigning ignorance, Polke was fascinated by the malleability of vision. At the same time, his work defied the principles of modernism identified by Clement Greenberg. In fact, the art critic David Campbell writes that the "unruly diversity of Polke's art is in marked contrast to the modernist drive for purity and order...; his aesthetic is capricious, his 'methods' impure, and he courts ambiguity and iconic corruption" ("Plotting Polke," in Sigmar Polke: Back to Postmodernity, 1996, p. 19). Rejecting the comprehensible in favor of the elusive, Polke's work is in permanent flux between strangeness and beauty.
The sheet is mounted and framed under acrylic; two small areas along the top edge appear skinned likely as a result of sticking to the original acrylic glazing. Framed Dimensions 37 X 49 Inches
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