Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alchemy Meets Politics - Sigmar Polke Exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in Venice

Strahlen Sehen 5
Sigmar Polke, Strahlen Sehen, 2007
The Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection /
Winners of the Rubens Prize of the City of Siegen
Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
(Venice, Italy) The German artist Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) fills the entire cavernous Palazzo Grassi with his mystical magical art, leaving his distinct fingerprints all over the decades from the 1960s through the 2000s.

The solo exhibition contains nearly 90 works from the Pinault Collection and other public and private collections, and is the first retrospective show in Italy dedicated to the artist who was known for not answering the phone or giving interviews. His obituary in the New York Times labeled him a "quixotic pop artist who used ordinary materials to create the extraordinary."

Die Schere (The Scissors)
Sigmar Polke, Die Schere, 1982
Private collection
Ph: Wolfgang Morell
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Sigmar Polke was born in Oels, in the Central European region of Lower Silesia, which, after everything got divvied up after WWII, morphed into what is now Poland. He was the seventh out of eight kids, and fled with his family to Thuringia in 1945 when they tossed the Germans out after war.

Thuringia then fell under Communist rule, and off the refugee family went again, this time escaping to West Berlin, and settling in Dusseldorf, where the German artist grew up -- Polke would have been 20-years-old when the Berlin Wall was constructed by East Germany, and nearly 50 when the wall came down. Polke was based in Cologne from 1978 until he died on June 10, 2010. So, he had a front row seat in the battle between Capitalism and Communism.

Junge mit Zahnbürste (Boy with Toothbrush)
Sigmar Polke, Junge mit Zahnbürste, 1964
Kunsthaus NRW, Kornelimünster
Ph: Anne Gold
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Polke worked at a stained glass factory, and studied at the Dusseldorf State Art Academy. As the Cold War swirled around him, he hooked up with fellow East German artist Gerhard Richter, and in 1963 co-founded the movement "Capitalist Realism," which parodied western commercialism, while playing on the official "Socialist Realism" term imposed on artists in the east by the Soviets.

According to the exhibition catalogue, Richter (who set an auction record price for a painting by a living artist when his Abstraktes Bild sold for $44.52 million in February 2015) said, "We thought everything was so stupid and we refused to participate. That was the basis of our understanding."

Alice_im_Wunderland
Sigmar Polke, Alice im Wunderland, 1972
Private collection
Ph: Wolfgang Morell
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Polke journeyed to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, like an alchemist, played with different substances to create his art, such as fruit juices and beeswax, or grains of meteorites and arsenic sprinkled over canvas covered with resin. He used painting, drawing, photography, Xerox, film and installation. He wondered about paint and pigment, and how different cultures used and created their colors.

IndianerMitAdler (Indian with Eagle)
Sigmar Polke, Indianer mit Adler, 1975
Pinault Collection
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
Co-curator Guy Tosatto, Director of the Museum of Grenoble, and who knew Polke, says in the catalogue, 'Sigmar Polke never loses a certain light-heartedness, a mix of humor and casualness that saves him from becoming too serious, aware that art is not about definitive truths, but rather about an incessant metamorphosis, and one which turns out to be rather like life, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."' (That last bit is Tosatto quoting Shakespeare's Macbeth.)

AxialAge2
Sigmar Polke, Axial Age, 2005-2007
Pinault Collection
Installation view in the exhibition “Mapping The Studio” at Punta della Dogana, 2009-2011
© Palazzo Grassi, ph: ORCH orsenigo_chemollo
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
The exhibition opens with Axial Age (2005-2007) inside the atrium of Palazzo Grassi. Originally exhibited in the central pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, it refers to Karl Jasper's Axial Age theory. From Wikipedia:

Jaspers argued that during the Axial Age "the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently in China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece. And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today." These foundations were laid by individual thinkers within a framework of a changing social environment.

Zirkusfiguren
Sigmar Polke, Zirkusfiguren, 2005
Pinault Collection
Ph: Matteo De Fina
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke by SIAE 2016
With all the political talk about building new walls these days, and millions of new refugees trying to find a home, wandering around Palazzo Grassi surrounded by the images created by Sigmar Polke uplifts the soul to another dimension, where the whole muddling mess down below on earth seems like a challenge to be surmounted with a nod and a wink.

Sigmar Polke runs through November 6, 2016. Go to Palazzo Grassi for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

1 comment:

  1. The German artist Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) fills the entire cavernous Palazzo Grassi with his mystical magical art, leaving his distinct fingerprints all over the decades from the 1960s through the 2000s.

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