Sigmar Polke Exhibition

by Laurence Humphries, February 3, 2015

View the article including a number of pictures at








Sigmar Polke was a Revolutionary artist who lived most of his life in Cologne in Germany. He was able to use and develop many different materials ranging from cloths Lattice work and even luminous materials used for Photocopying machines , he also used Dots which were scraped across a photograph like the image of Harvey Oswald.

His series of images referred in the first room of the Tate Exhibition was called Capitalist restoration. Polke was sceptical about Autuarky and ideas of looking  especially portrayal of authority and the Nazi Ideology of the past. The artist he worked closely with was Gerard Richter. “They showed their work together using the term Capitalism Realism to distinguish their approach from Pop and socialist Realism. in the drawing of lee Harvey Oswald Polke began to experiment with replicating half toned printed images by reproducing dots with a pencil eraser”.[1]. As you can see the dots are different from the dots used by Georges Seurat the post impressionist and the Benday  dots used by Roy Lichenstein the Pop artist.

In the 1960’s Polke painted different images for instance his Flying saucers 1966 and girlfriends 1965/6. He tended to parody Modern art by portraying Modern Abstract art by using stripe Painting and some of his ork can be compared to Mondrian’s Abstract pictures.




His Moderne Kunst Untitled was an attempt to parody many Conceptual artists by portraying Objects works and numbers , particularly Mathematics and Absurd solutions “Polke looked closely at pictures in Newspaers and magazines printed as Raster images made up of a row of dots”.[2]. “But the dots remain relatively messy when seen close up>He welcomed occasional spills of paint or a mistake in a field of dots”.[3].



“Polke seems to suggest that modernist abstraction-whether constructivist biomorphic expressionist or geometric was no longer available as a serious option for young artists but only fit for parody”.[4].

In the 1970’s he experimented with Hallucionic drugs and became associated with the Radical left he was also influenced by Joseph  Beuys and travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan To experience different cultures. He painted a picture of Mao-Tse-Tung, the Chinese Leader and Stalinist.



Mao painted in 1972 6.was painted on fabric and mounted on felt with a wooden dowell. This showed Polke attempting constantly to look for new materials and new ways to display his art. He wanted to break from his bourgeois past and started using pasted images collages and montages. “Polke experimented with photography during these years and Polke also explored transparency in his film work doubly and multiply exposing his reels.”.[5].

In the 1980’s Polke would use new materials adding colour and scale using purple and bronze pigments that would show visual changes.”Polke used pigments that would change from purple to bronze when burnished”‘[6].



His Pagannini 1981-3 showed how the soul had been claimed by the Devil , using dispersion paint ,aluminium paint and pencil on fabric Polke created revolutionary images for the 21st century. “Testing  out different pigments ,liquids and colours and researching pre-industrial techniques the studio became a site of material investigation”.[7].

from 1984-6 Polke started constructing and painting images of watchtowers , these were ambiguous structures which reflected Germany’s past particularly Nazi concentration camps and the Berlin Wall. For these images Polke used material and chromatic chemical solutions and transitional bubble wrap to create the right effect. “Polke created a large stencil of the watchtower, sometimes coupling his with images of hands gripping prison bars or holding out an identity pass”.[8].



In The Room labelled Spirits soot and snow there are materials used By Polke with mystical creation and white paint. “The stumato works were created by passing an antique oil lamp underneath glass panes so that swirls of soot formed abstract patterns”.[9]. A truly innovative and revolutionary use of material by Polke which shows how he stands out from the other artists of his generation.



Polke used Salamander stone with enamel on polyester adding photocopier prints. He mixed polyester with resin. polke was determined to see perception as always fallible to the eye. “In seeing things as they are he painted this phrase taken from a Newspaper headline To perceive the World as it truly is”.[10].

It could be argued that in a sense that Polke encapsulated the Realist Tradition.




By the 1990’s Polke was using computer generated images like Brittas Pig and Seasons Hottest trend, he was developing canvasses digitally printed with a Photocopier .He  was using modern technology to achieve his objective. Towards the end of his Life Polke wanted to use Matter and Illusion. In the final rooms of the Tate Exhibition you are able to see how Polke uses 3d lenses and Holograms adding Gel to rake over and create ridges in the image . He is philosophically questioning Materiality and immateriality by asking is there a materialist truth or an Idealist truth. I feel that this exhibition has been well curated by the Tate and by using 14 rooms the Whole and range of Polke’s work can be displayed. I would recommend this Exhibition and if you haven’t seen it yet there is time before the Exhibition closes on the 8th February 2015.








7)   DITTO  ROOM 6

8)   DITTO   ROOM 7

9) DITTO     ROOM  8

10) DITTO   ROOMS 9, 10, 11,12,13 AND14