Sigmar Polke - 20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 14, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Sigmar Polke, 'Table Dance', Lot 15

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004

  • Catalogue Essay

    “[I] treat the whole surface in the same way—like Cézanne—and treat all subjects in the same way: a horse, a woman, an ass, etc.” – Sigmar Polke

    Painted during the last decade of his life, Table Dance is an amalgamation of Sigmar Polke’s half-century-long preoccupation with reality, parody, and the immorality of hedonism. Executed in 2002, the painting extends the artist’s exploration of provocative imagery first explored in the 1960s including his two renowned 1966 paintings Japanische Tänzerinnen (Japanese Dancers) and Bunnies, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. As in these works, in Table Dance, the salacious scene emerges from an inky web of his idiosyncratic raster dots, which have been set atop an expanse of shimmering dispersion paint that comes to the foreground as painterly fields at the corners. In Table Dance, Polke presents a metaphorical collage of the characteristics that have come to typify his oeuvre, including depictions of tribal barbarity, raster dots, and alchemy, within a renewed context during the last chapter of his career.

    Table Dance was executed while Polke was preparing for a solo exhibition of recent work at the Dallas Museum of Art that opened in November 2002. The Lone Star State and its loaded social and political lore became a source of inspiration for Polke, who asked former Dallas Museum of Art director Jack Lane to mail Texan newspapers to him in Germany, an unsurprising request given Polke’s career-long engagement with mass media and visual culture. His fixation with the region, an epicenter of American heritage and the home state of then president George W. Bush, manifested itself in the subsequent body of work’s subject matters, which included military power, surveillance, history, guns, sex, and other questions regarding morality. The tavern in Table Dance does indeed feel quintessentially all-American: the U.S. flag hangs above the booth, beer is served on tap, a cow’s skull—an iconic symbol of the Southwest—sits above the entryway. However, in a sly bait and switch, what Polke has actually captured in Table Dance is not an American saloon but a Texas-themed bar in Germany, playing on notions of stereotype and authenticity.

    Polke further destabilizes the reading of the painting through its very facture. Preventing any thorough grasp of the painting is the return of Polke’s trademark raster dots, which can be traced all the way back to the third known painting by the artist, Tisch (Table), 1963. These rasters—famously known as “Polke-dots”—allude to the halftone process used in the printing of newspapers and magazines. Despite their initial resemblance to Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots, Polke painstakingly hand-painted each raster until they became an integral part of the composition, rather than a straight pictorial filter. Perhaps they are thus better understood as a nod to the radical painterly techniques developed at the turn of the 20th century in Paris, as the artist himself acknowledged when he explained that his rasters allow him “to treat the whole surface in the same way—like Cézanne—and to treat all subjects in the same way: a horse, a woman, an ass, etc.” (Sigmar Polke, quoted in Sigmar Polke: Works on Paper 1963-1974, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1999, p. 16).

    Polke usually projected a source image, enlarged to the point of near intelligibility, onto his canvases before filling in the rasters. An effect of this technique is that the rasters become a subversive force even though they are the picture’s predominant source of stability: the closer the viewer comes to Table Dance, the more the figures break apart into abstraction. “For me, the raster is a system…It divides, disperses, arranges and makes everything the same,” Polke elucidated. “I take pleasure in the blurriness caused by the enlargement, the movement of the dots, the shift between recognizability and non-recognizability of the motif, the indecisiveness and ambiguity of the situation…” (Sigmar Polke, quoted and translated in Stefan Fronert, Sigmar Polke: Girlfriends, London, 2017, p. 48).

    Further destabilizing Table Dance is the unequal distribution of the rasters, whose complete dominion over the composition’s figuration is jeopardized by the painterly, abstract swaths of dispersion that come to the foreground of the composition at the corners of the picture plane. A familiar choice of medium for an artist notorious for his predilection for unorthodox substances—from meteor dust to uranium to snail ooze—dispersion takes on an iridescent shimmer that causes the work to reflect different hues depending on the lighting and the position of the viewer. When observed from different angles, glistens of green, pink, or purple emerge as other shades recede, creating a mystical visual effect as one approaches, retreats from, or moves around the painting. In this sense, Polke acts as alchemist in Table Dance: as the colors magically transmute into others, any coherent narrative or ostensibly clear sense of depth is undermined.

    Despite its sexual subject matter, seemingly intended to evoke physical desire from its viewers, Table Dance’s eroticism is inhibited by its medium. The subjects of Polke’s paintings like these “are subordinated to the pattern of dots, which become paramount to the viewing experience,” interpreted art historian Joseph E. McHugh. “Desire for the female body, so central to Playboy magazine marketing, has lost its place in the shifting and ambiguous pattern, which only exposes the imperfections of the media image’s understructure. Polke is content to manipulate the dots rather than sensationalize the female figure” (Joseph E. McHugh, “Connecting the Dots: Sigmar Polke’s Rasterbilder in their Sociopolitical Context”, Sigmar Polke: Back to Postmodernity, Liverpool, 1996, p. 87).

    Though the image is clearly one of ritual subjugation—unlike Francis Picabia’s Portrait of Suzy Solidor, 1933 and Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the woman entertaining is the only face in the scene obscured from the viewer’s vision—the implications of these subversive dots and the dispersion’s optical effect are unclear. By immersing the observer in the painting while simultaneously distancing them from it, are they indicative of a critique of capitalism’s marketing of female sexuality? Or, when considered more broadly next to his works from the same period depicting guns and military violence, is Table Dance reflective of a deeper meditation on morality and the all-too-easy path to tribal savagery?

    Polke has painted in Table Dance a complex portrait of voyeurism, sexual power dynamics, and humanity’s evolving and ambiguous conceptions of post-war reality. It is the result of an artist, then at his prime, revisiting his earlier pictorial and thematic decisions in order to arrive at something new, and was an image that he felt compelled to silkscreen onto another work that year, Me and My Buddies Would Vote for You. Though the painting includes no obvious weapons, Table Dance betrays Polke’s interest in the potential violence of looking: in the watching men’s eyes, the woman is as much a target as the bullseye is in Splatter Analysis, 2002, Dallas Museum of Art. Imbuing the painting with the violence and virulent sociability that characterized the body of work he produced in the year after 9/11, Polke has captured in Table Dance the spine-chilling human drive to master what we see.

A Discerning Vision Property from an Important Private Collection


Table Dance

signed, titled and dated ““Table - dance" Sigmar Polke 2002" on the overlap
acrylic and interference color on canvas
59 1/8 x 71 in. (150.2 x 180.3 cm.)
Executed in 2002.

We are most grateful to Mr. Michael Trier, Cologne for his assistance with the cataloguing of this work.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,180,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th C. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019