Sigmar Polke - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Friday, March 3, 2023 | Phillips
  • Panorama, Lukrativer Handel mit der Luft by Sigmar Polke is a testament to the artist’s undeniable contribution to the art historical canon. Created in 1997, the present work is a prime example of Polke's unique style that blends elements of Surrealism, Pop Art, and Dadaism to create a complex and thought-provoking commentary on modern life and culture. The title, which translates as ‘Panorama, lucrative trade with air’ was inspired by a newspaper headline reporting on the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty agreed by 191 countries with the collective aim of decreasing the onset of global warming through reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. This was the first global collective effort following the recent acknowledgement of the issues facing the planet as a result of rising temperatures. The UN Climate Change Conference held in Kyoto in 1997 was only the third annual meeting of its kind and Polke’s choice to immortalise this moment through the present work is reaffirmed by the increased importance of the same issue in today’s society. 

    “You cannot exist in a vacuum, you are rooted in time”
    —Sigmar Polke 
    It has been frequently noted that Polke consistently created a sense of contemporaneity in his work, however the artist rejected the idea that his art be seen as solely a statement based on what was “happening outside”1. The artist said “I like it when my art includes references to the past, to my roots. I cannot forget what my precursors have done. Even if the results look new, as far as I am concerned, as an artist I am following an academic path. I like tracking down certain pictures, techniques, and procedures. It is a way of understanding what is largely determined by tradition.”2 Panorama, Lukrativer Handel mit der Luft is a monumental and triumphant example of Polke’s multifaceted approach. The work is prodigious in its scale, and the use of polyester resin and polyester canvas, renders the ground glowingly transparent. The picture plane is dissected by the stretcher bars which show through the yellow filmy canvas and these, together with the title of the work, printed in large black font form the basis of the composition. Polke had experimented with the alchemical qualities of different substances since his interest in photography bloomed in the 1980s and the series of transparent canvas’ made using resin-treated synthetic fabric, each serves to challenge the traditional notion of the painting.
    “Often, instead of canvas, the surface is translucent, weaveless, high-tech polyester scrim. You can see right through it to the stretcher behind, and the wall behind that. As you move, the material catches the light and shimmers with refracted iridescence. A painting, classically, is a virtual window, with an illusory painted world beyond. In Polke's case, the window is real, and so is the beyond, even when there's nothing there.”
    —Adrian Searle, Art Critic

    Francis Picabia, L’Oeil Cacodylate, 1921, Musee National d’Arte Moderne, Paris. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2023

    In 1958, as a young art student, Polke visited the first Dada exhibition to take place in post-war, Germany featuring the work of artists such as Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia. The movement would have a profound influence on the artist’s development of style, elements of which are evident in Panorama, Lukrativer Handel mit der Luft. Polke doesn’t borrow from Dadaist work, but incorporates and reimagines the key principles of humour, irrationalism, and iconoclasm for the modern day. Isolated, the text hints at a meaning but keeps it out of reach, Lukrativer Handel mit der Luft could be an irreverent jibe at the commercial art market and its lucrative trade, just as easily as a politicised comment on climate change. Panorama is equally descriptive and nonsensical. The canvas’ vast size and transparent nature transforms the picture into a wide-angle window, but instead of the far-reaching view implied in the word, the viewer is faced with the stretcher bars and a blank wall behind. The viewer is provided with a privileged perspective into the physical and structural components of a painting, something that is usually hidden by the view the artist chooses to display. This unique viewing experience is only furthered by the sensation of being dwarfed and enveloped by the glistening other-worldly surface and billboard sized lettering.


    1 Polke quoted in Kathrin Rottmann, ‘Polke in Context: A Chronology’, Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 20
    2 Ibid.,

    • Provenance

      Galerie Jürgen Becker, Hamburg (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1999)
      Sotheby's, London, June 21 2007, lot 31
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Massimo de Carlo, Sigmar Polke: Panorama, 11 January - 29 January 2022

    • Literature

      Sigmar Polke - Die drei Lügen der Malerei, exh. cat., Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn; Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, 1997-1998, n.p. (illustrated)
      Klaus Staeck, ed., Sigmar Polke Rasterfahndung, Göttingen, 2011, pp. 95-96 (illustrated)


Panorama - Lukrativer Handel Mit Der Luft

polyester resin on polyester fabric
300 x 400 cm (118 1/8 x 157 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1997.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡♠

Sold for £406,400

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 3 March 2023