This new exhibition at Tate Modern celebrates the work of Sigmar Polke 1941-2010 one of the most radical artists of the last century. Polke worked in a variety of mediums and this retrospective offers an interesting glimpse at the work of this sometimes overlooked artist.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically starting with Polke’s reaction to the American Consumerism that he saw engulfing West Germany at the time, and ending with his last works that are more abstract and experimental in terms of material and techniques.
Polke’s experimentation with materials was one constant throughout his career. In the late ’60’s he painted on textured wallpaper sections and would use fabrics and texture right up to his last works. One monumental series presented in the exhibition The Spirits that lend Strength are Invisible used ground dust from a Chilean Meteor. While Sfumato was created from passing glass over an old oil lamp, the swirls of the soot creating a haunting abstract vision.
Other works show his use of photography and film making. The ‘raster’ images are created from photographs printed in newspapers but blown up so that the dots from which they are made are exaggerated. This technique was of course also used by Warhol and Lichtenstein, but Polke’s images are more distorted and seem closer of the works of the cubists than those of pop art.
This distortion carries through in the later works that were created by photocopying images from a 19th Century book on a damaged photocopier. The works produced have an erie quality of uncertainty. These works were produced when Germany was undergoing the upheaval of reunification and portray the sense of unease that many Germans felt during that period.
This uncertainty is further examined in his series of watchtower paintings. The watchtowers are those erected and used by hunters to spy their prey, but they recall those erected around the concentration camps so that guards could keep an eye and a rifle on the inmates, and those erected in the DDR so that guards could keep an eye and a rifle trained on the populous.
The exhibition is a well thought out and laid out retrospective. Polke is often overlooked but he was one of the most influential artists of the late 20th Century not just in Germany but across Europe. However there are no soft edges with Polke he was always pushing the boundaries as far as he could.
Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010
9 October 2014 – 8 February 2015
Adult £14.50 (without donation £13.10)
Concession £12.50 (without donation £11.30)
Under 12s go free (up to four per parent or guardian)