100 DAYS, 100 WORKS: SIGMAR POLKE'S BITING IRONY

He despised the art world, the elitism, and his own genius cult, his art is wildly ironic, provocative and highly sarcastic. He never gave interviews and encountered art critics as well as collectors with some sort of disrespect. Nevertheless, he was adored by the scene, exhibited at the most important fairs and biennale and celebrated for his borderless creativity.  

The talk is about Sigmar Polke. As part of Germany’s post-war artists, Sigmar Polke stood for an unconventional and experimental use of different media and materials, as well as rich visual worlds. Together with Gerhard Richter, Konrad Lueg and Manfred Kuttner, Polke established the capitalist realism, an art movement strictly refusing elitism and the established art market, which defined Polke’s approach throughout his career. Bored by the ordinary concept of art and creating, Polke experimented with a variety of materials and fabrics. Snail mucus, uranium, meteoritic dust or even the poisonous cobalt nitrate were substances involved in Polke’s work. The art world loved and celebrated his notorious experiments - and thus only once again attracted the contemptuous ridicule of the artist, who never wanted to make friends with the customs of the scene.  

The more the scene loved Polke’s work, the more he despised it. The artist got invited to big art fairs and exhibitions early on and got cluttered in praise. As early as 1972, he took part at documenta 5 in Kassel. Two further documenta participations followed in 1977 and 1982. At Polke’s first documenta attendance, the prestigious exhibition experienced its first structural turmoil with a clear programmatic direction by curator Harald Szeemann. In 1972, Sigmar Polke was represented in the Individual Mythologies section of the exhibition. While his artistic accompaniments Gerhard Richter and Georg Baselitz unhang their works the day before the actual exhibition opened, Polke participated at documenta 6, which saw an expansion of the artistic field and a focus on media-critical art of the 70s. At documenta 7 curated by Rudi Fuchs, Sigmar Polke exhibited in Kassel for the third time. The seventh documenta-edition focused on paintings and sculptures. Curator Rudi Fuchs rather wanted to organize a documenta that did “justice to the dignity of art.” documenta 7 therefore took on a very museum-like character, which contradicted Polke’s anti-establishment approach and led to him declining the invitation for documenta 8.  

Despite these successes, the artist usually met the ovations of his followers with biting irony. He did not even name many of his paintings or gave them provocative titles with mocking allusions. He is even said to have urinated on the expensive coat of a heavily wealthy collector who visited his studio. Even the fact that collectors were paying hefty prices for Sigmar Polke's works did not put the artist in a mild mood: occasionally he demonstratively destroyed his paintings in front of an interested buyer. These escapades did nothing to diminish his fame, however - on the contrary: the more clearly Polke articulated his rejection, the more he was celebrated. 

Sigmar Polke's work "Aktion: 2 Stunden bei Rotlicht, bei Grünlicht" is part of the "100 days, 100 works - documenta artists (re-) discovered" on misa.art, which releases one artwork by documenta-exhibited artists during this year's documenta fifteen. 

Credits: Frederik von Erichsen/ picture alliance/ dpa

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