Sigmar Polke, Kandinsdingsda, (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, Gouache, Goldbronze, Lack- und Acrylfarben auf Papier auf Leinwand, 276 x 295 cm., Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Are We Devo or Are We Petit Bourgeois?
Sigmar Polke, Neu Guinea, (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, Gouache, Goldbronze und Acrylfarben auf Papier auf Leinwand, 207 x 295 cm., Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Sigmar Polke, Can you always believe your eyes? (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, Gouache, Lack- und Acrylfarben, Tabak,Zinksulfid und Cadmiumsulfid auf Papier auf Leinwand, 207 x 295 cm., Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Sigmar Polke, Supermarkets (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, Gouache, Goldbronze, Lack- und Acrylfarben, Filzstift, Collage auf Papier auf Leinwand, 207 x 295 cm., Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Sigmar Polke, Schweineschlachten (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, Gouache, Goldbronze, Acrylfarbe und Kreideauf Papier auf Leinwand, 207 x 295 cm, Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Sigmar Polke, Pille, (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, Gouache, Goldbronze, Lack- und Acrylfarben auf Papier auf Leinwand, 207 x 295 cm., Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Sigmar Polke, Ägyptischer Sternenhimmel, (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, Gouache, Goldbronze, Lack- und Acrylfarben, Filzstift auf Papier auf perforierter Leinwand, 207 x 295 cm., Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Candida Höfer, Düsseldorfer Szene (Neuss), 1973/74, © Candida Höfer, VG Bild-Kunst, 2009.
Memphis Schulze, Hochzeitsbild, 1977, © Max und Phillip Schulze.
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Galerie der Gegenwart
Sigmar Polke. Wir Kleinbürger!
March 13, 2009-January 31, 2010
Part 1: Clique
13 March 2009-28 June 2009
Part 2: Pop
12 July 2009 -4 October 2009
Teil 3: Politics
16 October 2009-31 January 2010
”Sigmar Polke. Everybody knew he was the man of the Seventies“
— Martin Kippenberger
At the centre of this exhibition is a long-neglected and only recently reassembled body of work by Sigmar Polke from the period 1974-1976: Wir Kleinbürger – Zeitgenossen und Zeitgenossinnen (We, the Petty Bourgeois – Contemporaries). The ten-part series of unusually large works on paper occupies a very important place in the artist’s oeuvre due to the unique variety of figures, traces, signs and quotations from popular imagery it contains: echoes of “Capitalist Realism” from the 1960s blend with precursors to Polke’s chemical and optical experiments with colour in the 1980s as well as the political themes that were to become increasingly prominent in his work from the mid-1990s onwards. As such it provides a panoramic view of art and everyday life in the Federal Republic of Germany in a period marked by hippie culture, the new women’s movement and terrorism. Taking the Kleinbürger series as its starting point, the exhibition for the first time provides insight into the whole of Sigmar Polke’s artistic output in the 1970s — a topic hitherto neglected by art historians. Films, photographs, drawings and paintings, supplemented by documentary material and source images, serve not only to illustrate the diversity of his work across a range of media but also to present a completely new — as a result of being long ignored — image of Polke in the era of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
Many of the works in this series were made on a farm — the Gaspelshof — near Willich in the Lower Rhine area, where other artists also came to work and friends came to stay. Polke had close connections to both the Cologne/Düsseldorf and the Berne/Zurich art scene, and was also a professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. A further focal point of the exhibition is therefore Polke’s collaborative practice: key works by colleagues and companions — Katharina Sieverding, Achim Duchow and Candida Höfer, to name just a few — reflect the prevailing trend towards working and living together, while individual responses to the issues confronting artists at that time are equally visible.
From March 2009 onwards, the Kleinbürger series, which takes its title from Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s much-discussed 1976 essay Von der Unaufhaltsamkeit des Kleinbürgertums (On the Inevitability of the Middle Classes), will be presented to the public for the first time in over thirty years in this exhibition at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. The unusually long duration of the show (10 months in total) aims to set a trend toward deceleration in the fast-moving world of art exhibitions and to promote sustained engagement with the Kleinbürger series and the historical cultural context of the 1970s.
The three consecutive and complementary parts, focusing on “Clique,” “Pop,” and “Politics” respectively, reveal interesting new connections and unexpected insights into Polke’s oeuvre; the Kleinbürger works will be presented alongside different neighbours each time.
Sigmar Polke was born in Oelsnitz in Lower Silesia. He fled with his family to Thuringia in 1945 during the Expulsion of Germans after World War II. His family escaped from the Communist regime in East Germany in 1953, traveling first to West Berlin and then to Düsseldorf.
Upon his arrival in West Germany, in Wittich, Polke began to spend time in galleries and museums and worked as an apprentice in a stained glass factory called Dusseldorf Kaiserswerth, before entering the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Art School) at age twenty. From 1961-1967 he studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Karl Otto Goetz and Gerhard Hoehme and began his creative output during a time of enormous social, cultural, and artistic changes in Germany and elsewhere. During the 1960s, Düsseldorf, in particular, was a prosperous, commercial city and an important centre of artistic activity.
In 1963 Polke founded “Kapitalistischen Realismus” (Capitalistic Realism), a painting movement with Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg (later called Konrad Fischer). It is an anti-style of art, appropriating the pictorial short-hand of advertising. This title also referred to the realist style of art known as ‘Socialist Realism’, then the official art doctrine of the Soviet Union (from which he had fled with his family), but it also commented upon the consumer-driven art ‘doctrine’ of western capitalism. He also participated in “Demonstrative Ausstellung”, a store-front exhibition in Düsseldorf with Kuttner, Lueg, and Richter.
Polke's creative output during this time of enormous social, cultural, and artistic changes in Germany and elsewhere, demonstrate most vividly his imagination, sardonic wit, and subversive approach in his drawings, watercolors, and gouaches produced during the 1960s and 1970's. Embedded in these images are incisive and parodic commentaries on consumer society, the postwar political scene in Germany, and classic artistic conventions.
The anarchistic element of the work Polke developed, was largely engendered by his mercurial approach. His irreverence for traditional painting techniques and materials and his lack of allegiance to any one mode of representation has established his now-respected reputation as a visual revolutionary. Paganini, an expression of "the difficulty of purging the demons of Nazism" - witness the "hidden" swastikas - is typical of Polke's tendency to accumulate a range of different mediums within one canvas. It is not unusual for Polke to combine household materials and paint, lacquers, pigments, screen print and transparent sheeting in one piece. A complicated "narrative" is often implicit in the multi-layered picture, giving the effect of witnessing the projection of a hallucination or dream through a series of veils.
Polke embarked on a series of world travels throughout the 1970s, photographing in Pakistan, Paris, New York, Afghanistan, and Brazil. From 1977-1991 he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Hamburg. He settled in Cologne, where he continues to live and work.
Released concurrently with the exhibition, a comprehensive new publication by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König will examine the background against which Wir Kleinbürger – Zeitgenossen und Zeitgenossinnen was created and situate the series in a broader context.
Curators of the exhibition: Dr. Dorothee Böhm and Dr. Dietmar Rübel; at the Hamburger Kunsthalle: Dr. Petra Roettig.
Andreas Züst, Sigmar Polke, 1976, © Nachlass Andreas Züst.
Sigmar Polke, Giornico (Wir Kleinbürger), 1976, 207 x 295 cm., Privatbesitz, Hamburg, © Sigmar Polke, Photo: Peter Schälchli.
Sigmar Polke, Zwei Köpfe, Kartoffelköppe (Mao & LBJ), detail, 1965, Kunstharz auf Leinwand, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, © Sigmar Polke.
The Origins and Life of Sigmar Polke's Half-Tone Dots on Steroids
Sigmar Polke, Freundinnen, 1965/1966, Öl auf Leinwand, 150 x 190 cm, Sammlung Froehlich, Stuttgart, Courtesy of Sigmar Polke.
Sigmar Polke, Untitled (Bärchen), Detail, 1995, 131.5 x 152 cm, Artificial resin and lacquer on fabric, Museum Frieder Burda.
Sigmar Polke, B-Mode, detail, 1987, Lack auf synthetischer Baumwolle, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, © Sigmar Polke.
Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Vienna
June 23- October 7, 2007
Sigmar Polke, one of the most highly regarded German painters internationally, is also considered one of the most important artists of the post-war period. A Retrospective brings together seminal works from the Frieder Burda, Josef Froehlich and Reiner Speck collections. With over 170 works it is one of the biggest Polke exhibitions of recent years.
Due to the unique interaction between the Polke foci in the individual collections the exhibition offers an extensive and differentiated overall view of the development of his work in which, with the exception of photography, all the “Polke genres” are represented. 60 large scale pictures and more that 110 works on paper from the last four decades substantiate the thematic diversity and stylistic pluralism of the artist who was born in 1941 in East Silesia and today lives in Cologne. His dense early oeuvre as well as his more recent work concerned with painterly technique and material experimentation is defined by transitions and the interplay between figuration and abstraction. It has references to traditions in art history and the flood of media images, conceptual reflection and a colourful, ornamental sensuality.
Even while still a student of the Düsseldorf Academy of Art Polke originated “capitalist realism” other artists including his then long-time friend, Gerhard Richter. It was critically and ironically concerned with Pop Art, influenced by the promises of the consumer world, “socialist realism” and the myths of modernism. He drew banal holiday scenes and advertising subjects with a ballpoint pen on cheap paper or ironically monumentalised them in panels such as Liebespaar (1967) or Reis (1963).
He satirised disrespectfully the art business and an exaggerated image of the artist in the famous picture Höhere Wesen befahlen … (1969) or in the picture Moderne Kunst (1968).
In the late 1960’s the so-called fabric and half-tone dot screen images became his trademark. From a critical standpoint and ironic distance he directed his attention to the dreams and promises of the blossoming consumer and leisure society: printed fabrics, often with patterns bordering on kitsch, served as background for paintings such as Dürer Hase [Dürer Hare] (1968) or Carl Andre in Delft (1968).
At the same time Polke turned to mass media image production. Initially he copied printed examples with caricature-like exaggeration. Following this he became increasingly interested in the half-tone screens used for photographic reproductions and transferred enlarged newspapers photographs to canvas. In part the dots developed into independent ornaments and were superimposed on the painting’s “subjects” such as in the well-known pictures Freundinnen (1965/66) or Interieur (1966). On the other hand, in a gesture of self-parody, he transformed the dots into colourfully painted figures as in Kartoffelköpfe (Mao &LBJ) (1965) thus humorously distancing himself from his own means of expression.
Over the years Polke expanded his pictorial language with a number of new stylistic, formal and content-related aspects. Gloss paint works and poured paintings that were created using processes that were only under limited control and subject to subsequent processes of change, earned him a reputation for being an alchemist amongst painters. Using photo chemicals he investigated his painting materials for their sensitivity to light and heat. As if moved by external forces, colours run on fabric and suggest subjects — which Polke comments with a wink when he called his picture Tischerücken (1981). Richly coloured, large-scale paintings are built up of overlaid layers of gloss paint. In works such as Gangster (1988) he included materials that shine through, so the stretcher construction is visible in the composition or he plays with the grid as a space-defining element as in the painting Weisser Raum.
Behind Polke’s games with contradictions and clichéd ideas, the humorous commentaries and picture puzzles, there is a humanist and culturally critical ethos. The solo show verifies the unbelievable bandwidth of his oeuvre and its formal and thematic diversity.
Sigmar Polke, Menschenbrücke, detail, 2005, Mischtechnik, Kunstharz auf Polyestergewebe, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, © Sigmar Polke.