“Sigmar Polke, an artist of infinite, often ravishing pictorial jest, whose sarcastic and vibrant layering of found images and maverick, chaos-provoking painting processes left an indelible mark on the last four decades of contemporary painting, died yesterday in Cologne, Germany.”
— from the New York Times‘ Arts Beat blog
The Walker enjoyed a long history with Polke, whom former Walker chief curator Richard Flood called “probably the closest thing we have to a history painter in the latter part of the century.” In 1994, it acquired a comprehsive archive of the artist’s prints and other editioned works spanning the first thirty years of his career. This collection continued to grow and today comprises a remarkable body of work: prints, photographs, three-dimensional constructions, artist’s books, and other special publications.
Flood organized the 1995 retrospective Sigmar Polke: Illumination, which featured Frau Herbst und ihre zwei Töchter (Mrs. Autumn and Her Two Daughters) (pictured below), the huge 1991 painting whose combination of fanciful, almost surreal imagery, gorgeous abstraction, and translucent fabric has made it a Walker favorite.
Flood said of Polke’s innovation with this work:
“… you have this meta thing and, then, you put it on a transparent surface, this totally permeable skin, that is accepting light and at the same time dealing with the notion of illusionistic space, but in a very real architectural way, just lifting it off the wall, allowing you to see the support structure through it. I think his contribution is bigger than I’m describing. At the same time, it’s amazing that people did not think of this earlier. It’s kind of astounding. All of these things look quite simple. Was that a big idea? Actually, yes, it was a big idea. But did the big idea have to be complicated? Not really. I take great heart in that as well.”
A key early work from Polke — Apparat, mit dem eine Kartoffel eine andere umkreisen kann (Apparatus Whereby One Potato Can Orbit Another) — goes on view August 12 as part of a new exhibition, A Shot in the Dark, in the Medtronic gallery.
Roberta Smith’s obituary at the New York Times
Apparat, mit dem eine … on ArtsConnected.org
Sigmar Polke in the Walker collection at ArtsConnected.org
A Shot in the Dark (opens August 12)
Get Walker Reader in your inbox. Sign up to receive first word about our original videos, commissioned essays, curatorial perspectives, and artist interviews.