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Sigmar Polke

Germany 1941 - 2010

Photography, Painting

Sigmar Polke
Sigmar Polke
February 27, 2016
Ok, I know it's so damn corny to quote somebody just to describe yourself, let alone Confucius, but this quote says all about my relationship with Widewalls, so forgive me for doing this: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Am I forgiven?

Describing what art is, its meaning, purpose and role is ultimately a subjective thing. If you were to ask a number of people the same question, it’s highly likely each one will give you a completely different answer. This goes for the artists themselves as well; regardless of their formal education and generally accepted norms, even those belonging to the same student class can have widely different definitions of art. That being said, what better way to not only find art in oneself, but also find oneself in art, than by experimenting with various techniques, approaches, subjects and materials. Sigmar Polke was one such German artist, and although he was mostly known for his paintings and photographs, his artistic oeuvre also contains films, performances, and works like large, three-dimensional light boxes. He has left a strong influence on the art world both via his pieces and the effect he had on other artists.

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Sigmar Polke – Guardian of the Threshold, 2003. Photo credits

Post World War II Social Influence

Polke and his family, seven of which were his brothers and sisters, fled to Thuringia in 1945 during the expulsion of Germans after World War II, and in 1953 to the Western Germany. Looking at it now, it could be said that this affected his complete artistic career, as he was set upon a specific path of distinct social, and above all, artistic influences. Düsseldorf was, at the time, a very “fertile soil” for a young artistic soul like Sigmar Polke, as he was able to spend time in galleries, museums, and even work as an apprentice in a stained glass factory, before becoming a student of the Arts Academy at the age of twenty. Under the wing of Karl Otto Götz, Gerhard Hoehme and Joseph Beuys, who has had an enormous influence on forming Polke’s artistic character, he thrived in prosperous, commercial city of Düsseldorf during the 1960s.

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Sigmar Polke – Levitation, 2005. Photo credits

World in the Lens of his Camera

His tendency to swap between different styles was present even in his photographs, as he used photography to portray an array of subjects and even twist the reality. His photographic work mostly originates from the late 1960s and through the 1970s, and traveling to various countries in this period helped him put the world in his lens. From France and the United States, over Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Sao Paulo, Polke’s photographs captured the life as he saw it, and more. Printing some of his Paris photos using chemical staining, he managed to create works depicting strange appearances, twisting the reality represented by the photograph. He would create works that combined the positives and negatives, horizontal and vertical orientations of the photo, and it culminated in a suite of 35 prints entitled Aachener Strasse, completed in 1995.

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Sigmar Polke – Untitled (Quetta, Pakistan), 1974/1978. Photo credits

Creative and Witty Painting

Polke saw painting itself as an empty canvas: his imagination and wit could literally take him anywhere, as it usually did in the various periods of his life in which he was devoted to it. Even as a young painter, he founded the painting movement Capitalist Realism in 1963, alongside Gerhard Richter and Konrad Fischer. Combining mass media images with objects out of the daily life, Polke demonstrated uncanny wit and imagination in his paintings during the 1960s and 1970s, challenging the validity and purpose of the media images, as well as the consumer society and political scene in Germany.

After a period of photography, he returned to painting in the 1980s. His experimental spirit was preserved, and his interest in alchemical properties led him to incorporate all sorts of materials into his artistic practice: meteor dust, smoke, uranium rays, lavender, cinnabar, and even a purple pigment from the mucus excreted by snails, all belonged to his recipe list. He would often soak the fabric for his paintings into raisin, making it transparent and thus allowing for multiple layers to be created within a single piece. The mid-1990s were marked by his Druckfehler, or “Printing Mistakes” series, which also utilized layers or raisin to create witty art that gauged the viewer’s interest and intellect. In the later years, he would develop and refine his “Lens Paintings” series, as well as focus on historical events through his work.

Sigmar Polke was an “artistic alchemist” of a sort

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Sigmar Polke – Menschenbrücke (detail), 2005. Photo credits

The Legacy of Sigmar Polke

Sigmar Polke never shied from applying a different approach, and when he would choose an artistic style to follow, it wouldn’t be long before he implemented a novelty in his work. An “artistic alchemist” of a sort, his opus is defined not just by painting and photography, but also by film, including his Der ganze Körper fühlt sich leicht und möchte fliegen (The Whole Body Feels Light and Wants to Fly) (1969), a series of stained-glass windows that he created for the Grossmünster cathedral in Zurich (between 2006 and 2009), drawings, sculptures, and others. Making an influence on great artists of his time like Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen, Richard Prince and Julian Schnabel, as well as the young artists of today, he remains one of the most experimental artists of the 20th century.

The artist is represented by me Collectors Room Berlin.

After a long battle with cancer, Sigmar Polke died on June 10th, 2010.

Featured image: Sigmar Polke. Photo credits
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2014Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010MoMA - Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NYSolo
2014Sigmar Polke - Early Works On PaperMichael Werner Gallery - New York, New York City, NYSolo
2014Sigmar Polke - Sämtliche PublikationenGalerie Daniel Buchholz - Köln, CologneSolo
2014Sigmar Polke - la démultiplication de l’humourles Abattoirs de Toulouse, ToulouseSolo
2014Wild Heart: Art Exhibition of German Neo-Expressionism Since the 1960sChina Art Museum, ShanghaiGroup
2014Wir - Acting in ConcertKlinger Forum e.V., LeipzigGroup
2014Night ImagesMichael Werner Kunsthandel, CologneGroup
2014Living with Pop: A Reproduction of Capitalist RealismArtists Space, New York City, NYGroup
2014Polke/Richter-Richter/PolkeChristie’s Mayfair, LondonGroup
2014The Paths of German Art from 1949 to the presentMoscow museum of modern art - MMOMA, MoscowGroup
2014Art and Alchemy - The Mystery of TransformationMuseum Kunstpalast, DusseldorfGroup
2014Happier than the morning sunSies + Höke, DusseldorfGroup
2014History's Shadow: German Art and the Formulation of National IdentityVanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, Nashville, TNGroup
2014What Is a Photograph?ICP - International Center of Photography, New York City, NYGroup
2014Dream LocationPresentation House Gallery - PHG, North Vancouver, BCGroup
2014The Age Of Small ThingsDODGE Gallery, New York City, NY (closed, 2014)Group
2013Sigmar Polke. Erotic WorksMichael Werner Kunsthandel, CologneSolo
2013The Multiplication Of HumorMuseum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, SiegenSolo
2013Sigmar Polke - Die Vervielfältigung des HumorsArt Galerie Kunstmarkt für Siegen, SiegenSolo
2013House of VettiiKoenig & Clinton, New York City, NYGroup
2013To Open Eyes - Art and Textiles from the Bauhaus to TodayKunsthalle Bielefeld, BielefeldGroup
2013The Carollers of KölbigkGalleri Bo Bjerggaard, CopenhagenGroup
2013Ausweitung der Kampfzone. Die Sammlung. 1968-2000Neue Nationalgalerie, BerlinGroup
2013Vielfalt Statt Einfalt. 20 Jahre ArtothekStädtische Galerie Villa Zanders, Bergisch GladbachGroup
2013Mínima resistenciaMuseo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, MadridGroup
2013Ruhe-Störung - Streifzüge durch die Welten der CollageMARTa Herford, HerfordGroup
2013Comic FutureBallroom Marfa, Marfa, TXGroup
2013ArcticLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, HumlebækGroup
2013Reflections from Damaged LifeAn exhibition on psychedelia - Raven Row, LondonGroup
2013Helms And FriendsGalerie Judith Andreae, BonnGroup
2013XerograhyFirstsite @ the minories art gallery, ColchesterGroup
2013TumescenceMichael Werner Gallery - New York, New York City, NYGroup
2013Great Men Die TwiceGaleria Mário Sequeira, BragaGroup
2013A collection shows its faceStadtgalerie Bamberg - Villa Dessauer, BambergGroup
2013Kaboom! Comic in der KunstWeserburg | Museum für moderne Kunst, BremenGroup
2013Infinity – Neoexpressionism / Contemporary ArtZhan Zhou Center of Contemporary Art, BeijingGroup
2013Glam! The Performance Of StyleSchirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt/MainGroup
2013Summer Group ShowGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneGroup
2013Standard Escape RoutesStandard (Oslo), OsloGroup
2013Give Us This Day ... When Art Goes To ChurchMuseet for Religiøs Kunst, LemvigGroup
2013Yes Man Does What It IsBonner Kunstverein, BonnGroup
2013Evropská grafikaGalerie Litera, PragueGroup
2013A World of Wild DoubtKunstverein in Hamburg, HamburgGroup
2013Lucas Knipscher, Win McCarthy, Sigmar PolkeRachel Uffner Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2013Richter and Polke, Works on Paper from the Kunstmuseen KrefeldRHA Gallery - Royal Hibernian Academy, DublinGroup
2012Music From An Unknown Source16th Line Gallery, Rostov-on-DonSolo
2012Sigmar Polke - Music from an Unknown SourceNational Center For Contemporary Art (NCCA) - Nizhny Novgorod branch, Nizhny NovgorodSolo
2012About StupidityThe Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Petach TikvaGroup
2012The presence of Pictures - German Painting: Highlights from Six DecadesNational Center For Contemporary Art (NCCA) - Moscow Branch, MoscowGroup
2012Language GamesCentro de Artes Visuales Helga de Alvear, CáceresGroup
2012Le Frac S'invite Au ConsortiumFRAC - Bourgogne, DijonGroup
2012Memories of the future, The Olbricht CollectionLa Maison Rouge, ParisGroup
2012La Collection Michael WernerMusée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris - MAM/ARC, ParisGroup
2012Leben Mit Pop!Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig, LeipzigGroup
2012Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty YearsThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NYGroup
2012Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70sBarbican Art Gallery, LondonGroup
2012These Socks Are Not WhiteStedelijk Van Abbemuseum, EindhovenGroup
2012Erinnern - Remembering 1945 - 1995OMC Gallery For Contemporary Art, Huntington Beach, CAGroup
2012Rarely Seen Contemporary Works on PaperThe Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, ILGroup
2012Selected PrintsGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneGroup
2012First choice. master piecesGalerie Terminus, MunichGroup
2012The collection. German art from Kiefer to HenningMuseum Boijmans van Beuningen, RotterdamGroup
2012Pink CaviarLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, HumlebækGroup
2012Atelier + KücheMARTa Herford, HerfordGroup
2012Kapitalistisk Realisme44 Moen, AskebyGroup
2012Among othersGalerie Leu, MunichGroup
2012The Crystal ChainInvisible-Exports, New York City, NYGroup
2012Art and PressMartin-Gropius-Bau, BerlinGroup
2012German Photography 1960 - 2012: A SurveyBen Brown Fine Arts - Hong Kong, Hong KongGroup
2012Circus WolsWeserburg | Museum für moderne Kunst, BremenGroup
2012Brucennial 2012 - Harder. Betterer. Fasterer. StrongererBrucennial, New York City, NYGroup
2012Friends & FamilyKenny Schachter / ROVE Projects LLP, LondonGroup
2012Spirits Of InternationalismMuHKA Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, AntwerpGroup
2011Sigmar Polke: PhotographsGALERIE SPRINGER BERLIN, BerlinSolo
2011SIGMAR POLKEMuseu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand - MASP, São PauloSolo
2011Sigmar Polke. Bilder Und ZeichnungenMichael Werner Kunsthandel, CologneSolo
2011Photoworks 1964 - 2000Leo Koenig Inc., New York City, NYSolo
2011Sigmar Polke – Eine HommageAdK - Akademie der Künste, BerlinSolo
2011Sigmar PolkeMcCaffrey Fine Art, New York City, NYSolo
2011Dark ChristmasLeo Koenig Inc., New York City, NYGroup
2011The Third Room / Der Dritte Raum / Trzeci pokójMuzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej w Warszawie / Museum of Modern Art, WarsawGroup
2011Group ShowGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneGroup
2011Christmas Group ShowBernier/Eliades Gallery, AthensGroup
2011I hate Paul Klee (Papierarbeiten und Künstlerbücher aus der Sammlung Speck)Leopold Hoesch Museum, DürenGroup
2011Atlas. How to carry the world on one's back?Deichtorhallen Hamburg, HamburgGroup
2011East of Eden - Photorealism: Versions of RealityLudwig Museum - Museum of Contemporary Art - Budapest, BudapestGroup
2011From Classical To ContemporaryGalerie Miro, PragueGroup
2011Artists Of The GalleryGalerie Springer Berlin, BerlinGroup
2011Distant StarKurimanzutto, Mexico CityGroup
2011SUMMER GROUP SHOWGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneGroup
2011Capitalist RealismRichard Gray Gallery - New York, New York City, NYGroup
2011In Praise of Doubt - Punta della DoganaFrancois Pinault Foundation, VeniceGroup
2010Sigmar Polke - Die EditionenOldenburger Kunstverein, OldenburgSolo
2010Music from an unknown sourceGalerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, MumbaiSolo
2010Sigmar Polke / Works from a decadeGalleri Bo Bjerggaard, CopenhagenSolo
2010Works on paperWith Space Gallery Beijing, BeijingGroup
2010All you can wish for …Galerie Clairefontaine, LuxembourgGroup
2010Highlights on PaperGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneGroup
2010Collection ShowArario Seoul, SeoulGroup
2010GrafikGalerie Diede, BeulichGroup
2009Sigmar Polke - Grafiken und ObjekteGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneSolo
2009Sigmar Polke - Originale & GrafikenGalerie Löhrl, MönchengladbachSolo
2009Fotografías, Sigmar PolkeGalería Arnés + Röpke, MadridSolo
2009Sigmar Polke: Lens PaintingsMichael Werner Gallery - New York, New York City, NYSolo
2009Sigmar Polke: Lens PaintingsArts Club of Chicago, Chicago, ILSolo
2009Just what is it…ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, KarlsruheGroup
2009Who killed the Painting?Weserburg | Museum für moderne Kunst, BremenGroup
2009Major works on PaperPatrick Painter Inc., Santa Monica, CAGroup
2009Young classics - chapters from the contemporary art collectionKröller-Müller Museum, OtterloGroup
2009MARKET FORCES - Part 1 & 2Galerie Erna Hécey, BrusselsGroup
2009Art of Two Germanys/Cold War CulturesLos Angeles County Museum of Art - LACMA, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2008Sigmar Polke - Large Scale Paintings & Unique PhotographsPatrick Painter Inc., Santa Monica, CASolo
2008Sigmar Polke: Druckgraphische ArbeitenGalerie Karl Pfefferle, MunichSolo
2008Sigmar Polke 'Interferenzen & Uran'GALERIE SPRINGER BERLIN, BerlinSolo
2008Mirrors of EmotionAmos Anderson Art Museum, HelsinkiGroup
2008German HeroesMichael Schultz Gallery, SeoulGroup
2008The order of thingsMuHKA Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, AntwerpGroup
2008Here Is Every. Four Decades of Contemporary ArtMoMA - Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NYGroup
2008Bad Painting - good artMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig - MUMOK , ViennaGroup
2008EuropopKunsthaus Zürich, ZurichGroup
2007Sigmar Polke - Original + Fälschung, 1973Kunsthalle Tübingen, TübingenSolo
2007Sigmar Polke - Eine RetrospektiveKunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Brühlsche Terrasse, DresdenSolo
2007Sigmar Polke - KulturschabloneHamburger Kunsthalle, HamburgSolo
2007Sigmar Polke - Eine RetrospektiveMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig - MUMOK , ViennaSolo
2007Sigmar Polke - Photographs, 1968–1972The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CASolo
2007POLKE - Eine RetrospektiveMuseum Frieder Burda, Baden-BadenSolo
2007DruckgraphikFischer Kunsthandel & Edition, BerlinGroup
2007Drawing: A Broader DefinitionMFA - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, MAGroup
2007Blue ChipsGalerie Philipp Konzett, ViennaGroup
2007I Am As You Will Be: The Skeleton in ArtCheim & Read, New York City, NYGroup
200752nd International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale / Biennale di VeneziaLa Biennale di Venezia, VeniceGroup
2007Concept: Photography – Dialogues & Attitudes - Ludwig MuseumMuseum of Contemporary Art - Budapest, BudapestGroup
2006Sigmar Polke: Music from an Unknown SourceRMIT Gallery, Melbourne, VICSolo
2006Polke - Bernstein - AmberMichael Werner Gallery - New York, New York City, NYSolo
2006Sigmar Polke: 64 Fotografien - Kassel 1977GALERIE SPRINGER BERLIN, BerlinSolo
2006Sigmar Polke - Alice in WonderlandNMAO National Museum of Art Osaka, OsakaSolo
2006Sigmar Polke - Original + FälschungWestfälischer Kunstverein, MünsterSolo
2006Polke - Das kann doch kein Motiv seinKOG - Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie, RegensburgSolo
2006Sigmar Polke - Fotografien 1960 – 2005Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, MannheimSolo
2006Germany MasterMichael Schultz Gallery - Seoul, SeoulGroup
2006Super VisionICA - Institute of Contemporary ArtBoston, Boston, MAGroup
2006Black and White: Drawings for SummerMichael Werner Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2005Fotografien 1964-68/1990Galerie Stefan Röpke, CologneSolo
2005Sigmar Polke - Werke & TageKunsthaus Zürich, ZurichSolo
2005Sigmar Polke // Glocal 01 Fesel Modern ArtKunstTachometer PALMA DE MALLORCA, Palma de MallorcaSolo
2005Sigmar Polke - Grafiken von 1973 - 2003GALERIE Supper, Baden-BadenSolo
2004SIGRMAR POLKE: Fotografien 1964 - 2000GALERIE SPRINGER BERLIN, BerlinSolo
2004Unikate - Fotografie - EditionenMaximilian Krips Galerie, Cologne (closed, 2007)Solo
2004Sigmar Polke - Música de origen inciertoMuseo de Arte de Lima - MALI, LimaSolo
2003SIGMAR POLKE - Druckgrafik von 1972 - 2003Edition Staeck, HeidelbergSolo
2003Sigmar Polke - History of EverythingTate Modern, LondonSolo
2003Sigmar Polke - Música de origen inciertoMuseo Nacional de Artes Visuales - MNAV, MontevideoSolo
2003Sigmar Polke - Original und FälschungMKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, DuisburgSolo
2002Sigmar Polke: Recent Paintings and DrawingsDallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TXSolo
2002Sigmar Polke - Zeichnungen und FotografienHeck-Art-Galerie Kunst für Chemnitz e.V. , ChemnitzSolo
2002Sigmar Polke - DruckgrafikGalerie merkle, StuttgartSolo
2002Sigmar Polke - Recent Paintings and DrawingsDallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TXSolo
2001Sigmar Polke - Music from an Unknown SourceUniversity Gallery and Baring Wing - Northumbria University, Newcastle upon TyneSolo
2001Sigmar Polke: Music of Unclear OriginMilton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes, BuckinghamshireSolo
2001Sigmar Polke - AlchimistAstrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, OsloSolo
2001Sigmar Polke - Ausgewählte Grafik, Fotos, Objekte und Arbeiten auf PapierGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneSolo
2001Sigmar Polke - Die gesamten Editionen (1963-2000)Kunsthaus Zürich, ZurichSolo
2000New works on paper, early sketchbooks and a slide showAnthony d'Offay Gallery, London (closed, 2001)Solo
2000Sigmar PolkeZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, KarlsruheSolo
2000Sigmar Polke - GrafikGalerie Heinz Holtmann, CologneSolo
1999Gouaches by Sigmar Polke - Ludwig MuseumMuseum of Contemporary Art - Budapest, BudapestSolo
1999Sigmar Polke: C-DrawingsMichael Werner Gallery - New York, New York City, NYSolo
1997Sigmar Polke - Hamburg Lerchenfeld 1975-1976 photographic work - DE PONTMuseum of contemporary art, TilburgSolo
1996Sigmar Polke - TransitStaatliches Museum Schwerin, SchwerinSolo
1996Sigmar Polke Photoworks: When Pictures VanishThe Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DCSolo
1995Sigmar Polke Photoworks: When Pictures VanishMOCA Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CASolo
1995The Early DrawingsSCAI the Bathhouse, TokyoSolo
1993Sigmar Polke: BilderGalerie Erhard Klein, Bad MünstereifelSolo
1992Sigmar Polke - Neue Bilder 1992Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, MönchengladbachSolo
1991Sigmar Polke - Prints 1967-1990David Nolan Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
1990Sigmar Polke - FotografienStaatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Baden-BadenSolo
1989Sigmar Polke: Photographien, Paris 1971Jablonka Galerie - Köln, CologneSolo
1988Sigmar Polke - Peinture RécentesGalerie Chantal Crousel, ParisSolo
1987Sigmar Polke - Drawings from the 1960'sDavid Nolan Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
1977Sigmar Polke: FotosnGalerie Erhard Klein, Bad MünstereifelSolo
1974Sigmar Polke: Hallo Shiva…Galerie Erhard Klein, Bad MünstereifelSolo