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  • Provenance

    Michael Werner Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Michael Werner, Sigmar Polke: Polke – Bernstein – Amber, 7 November 2006 - 13 January 2007

  • Literature

    'Art in Review, POLKE/BERNSTEIN/AMBER, Michael Werner Gallery', The New York Times, 1 December 2006, online (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    We are most grateful to Mr. Michael Trier, Artistic Director from the Estate of Sigmar Polke, for his assistance.

    Deconstructing preconceived methods of two-dimensional representation Sigmar Polke’s oeuvre is a multifarious and expressive analysis of pictorial and material creation. The artist’s varied and significant contribution to post-war German art defies categorisation. The present composition, a complexly semi-transparent plane of aleatory forms built-up on both sides, is exemplary of Polke’s pioneering approach to picture making. The two-sided work, from a body of dimensional works created by the artist in the late 1980s, is an innovative celebration of the potential of medium. Connecting the materiality and aesthetic qualities of the image, Polke masterfully deconstructs and confronts reality.

    Leaving the image in a state of flux, between the recto and verso and oscillating in the variable nature of naturally cast light and opacity of the chosen materials, the artist allows chance to compliment his alchemy and compositional mastery. Painting on transparent polyester, Polke harnesses the foundations of the work. Applying thick layers of translucent resin to semi-transparent fibre, the artist subsequently pours coloured paint onto the plane, tilting the support to create swirling and expressive drip-like forms. Polke has created an abstract yet figurative field upon which he forms his gestural and erratic painterly arabesque-like figures. The lustrous plane of the work instils it with motion, inviting the viewer into the artist’s hallucinogenic and dynamic composition.

    Having trained as a stained glass worker in his youth, Polke’s concern for the effects of light, transparency and translucency on perception recur throughout his oeuvre. The artist’s fascination with luminosity is reflected in the double-sided nature of the present work, recalling the old Bavarian technique of Hinterglasmalerei - reverse painting on glass – which holds an established role in the visual arts and was adopted by expressionist painters such as Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. Here, the medium is traditionally applied directly to the reverse of the glass and the finished painting is viewed through the glass. Expanding on this concept, the present work is viewed through the fabric but is also composed from both sides. Caught between recto and verso, the composition is a phantasmagorical manifestation, recalling the popular nineteenth-century visual spectacles, panoramas and dioramas.

    Speaking of his Laterna Magica works, a grouping of translucent screens worked from each side, transparency entwined within them, the artist commented on the state of flux confronting the viewer: 'I wanted to make a mirror with lacquer where you stand in front of it and see what is behind you…Then you paint what you see behind you onto the picture that is in front of you. The next thing is this: while you're seeing what's behind you, you start to have thoughts about what is in front of you that you can't see. Because the illusion is already there and perfect' (Sigmar Polke, quoted in Sigmar Polke: Laterna Magica, exh. cat., Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, 1994, p. 44).

    In the 1980s Polke paired his alchemic experiments with political and historical themes. Harnessing the power of science and chance, the artist celebrated and constantly challenged the effects of pigment and chemicals. Exemplary of the scope of his investigations is Athanor, his contribution to the Pavilion of the Federal Republic of Germany during the Venice Biennale of 1986. Here, as in the present work, the artist’s concern with alchemy was underscored together with his affinity for manipulating and deconstructing images.

    Alchemy pairs materials with thoughts and a unitary and emanational outlook of the universe. The relationship between alchemic theory and practice resounds throughout Polke’s vast and prolific oeuvre. Whilst the artist directly experimented with chemicals and the diverse and variable effects of pigment, he also incorporated alchemic symbolism directly into works from his Laterna Magica series which he commenced in 1988 and concluded in 1996. Regularly citing Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens, the alchemical emblem book published in 1617, the artist pairs alchemical symbolism and classical mythology with physical and chemical experimentation. Works such as Untitled cement Polke’s position as an alchemist in the art historical canon, his application of colour and concern with chemical experimentation visible in method, form and content.

    Exceptionally kinetic, Untitled, remains fundamentally connected to its support whilst the transparency of the image simultaneously projects the picture into real space outside the confines of the plane. Characteristic of Polke’s interrogation of aesthetic potential, the present composition challenges the hierarchy of image and questions our means of perception. Recalling a history of illusionism, Polke harnesses technical and chemical innovations to shape the visual experience leaving the viewer caught between the visible and invisible, the transparent and the opaque.

Ο ◆19

Masterworks from a Private Collection


artificial resin on polyester fabric
116.8 x 137.8 cm (46 x 54 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1989.

£800,000 - 1,200,000 ‡ ♠

sold for £969,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018