Sigmar Polke - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Motion Capture: Looking at Sigmar Polke’s Tänzerin (Dancer)

    Tänzerin is an exceptional rarity in Polke's use of his most celebrated and iconic earlier technique of the hand-painted Raster and his prolific experimentations with color. Transcending the distinction between abstract and figurative, the work moves and transforms as light hits it's surface, inviting the viewer to move across the canvas. Chairman Cheyenne Westphal elaborates on the work's genesis.

  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1994

  • Literature

    We would like to thank Michael Trier, Artistic Director for The Estate of Sigmar Polke, for his assistance.

  • Catalogue Essay

    Oscillating in colour and playful in her elegance, evoking the graceful movement of a dancer, Tänzerin (Dancer) is an exceptional example of Sigmar Polke’s celebrated Rasterbilder (Raster paintings). Emblematic of the artist’s mastery of alchemy and experimentation with optical effects, Tänzerin serves as a rare and magisterial synthesis of Polke’s artistic explorations. At the locus of his experiments with alchemy, this exceptional work has remained within a private German collection since its execution in 1994 and has never before been seen outside this setting. Exemplary of Polke’s extensive analysis of aesthetics through materials and investigation into social and cultural models, the present work is a mirage of the artist’s creativity.

    is an exceptional rarity in Polke’s use of his most celebrated and iconic earlier technique of the hand-painted Raster and his prolific experimentations with colour. Having been trained as a stained glass worker in his youth, the artist remained fascinated by transparency and translucency and the effects of light on perception. The luminosity of the present work, a rigorous and graceful illusion, exposes this fascination with light. Here, his use of interference colour is exemplary of his continued experimentation with chemicals and perfected technique of rigorously hand-painted specs. Embodying how Polke transcends the distinction between the abstract and the figurative, Tänzerin is rare amidst his creative output of the 1990s. The elegant dancer, a perfected example, emerges through a web of pointillism that instils expressive force into the composition. Viewed within the context of other partial Raster paintings from the period, Kleiner Mann (Small Man), 1986 - 1992 (Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden) and Grosser Mann (Large Man), 1986 - 1992 (Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden), Tänzerin, is elevated, a refined and complete example of the artist’s masterful technique, the dancer emerging through a fabric of dots spanning the complete picture plane.

    Exploring colour through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Polke became an alchemist of sorts, mixing and experimenting with new materials and pigments. Culminating in Athanor, the artist’s project for the Pavilion of the Federal Republic of Germany during the Venice Biennale of 1986 for which he was awarded the Golden Lion Grand Prize for Painting, Polke’s fascination with alchemy was highlighted alongside his concern for manipulating and deconstructing imagery. Epitomising his distinguished use of chemistry and Raster, Athanor explored the variable and erratic effects of colour, temperature, light and tone, in a new collection of forms. Spots, drips, coatings and emulsions fused together, inviting the viewer to explore the picture plane and trace the outline of Polke’s subject matter. Here, another seemingly monochromatic Raster painting, Polizeischwein (Police Pig), 1986, was exhibited alongside other works presenting his mastery of alchemy. Set against the chemical experiments of other works, Polizeischwein demonstrated the artists continued concern with reproducing his ‘Rastered’ photographic weave. Harnessing these experimentations, expertly synthesising his early technique with the visual alchemy of tone, Tänzerin transports the viewer to the very origin of Polke’s successful and internationally celebrated style. The iridescent surface of the picture oscillates under light and motion, the movement of the onlooker revealing changes in chromaticity, reflecting Polke’s hallucinogenic universe. Dot by dot, the metallic paint reveals the fluid nature of the composition from which the dancer materialises, the tonality of the metallic background preventing the work from becoming a static composition.

    Dignified and effortless, the central figure recalls a long tradition of dance in the canon of twentieth century painting. Primary to the influential theories of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727 – 1810), the personality of dance is deemed a prerequisite to artistic development. Drawing on this history of the close correlation between dancing and painting, Polke brings the figure into a contemporary setting and places it at the centre of the composition. In Tänzerin, the figure gracefully moves, reminiscent of a thinly veiled Mata Hari amidst a network of particles. The dancer, a theme revisited infrequently throughout Polke’s oeuvre, most noticeably when associated with a playful circus environment. An early rendering of the subject matter Japanische Tänzerinnen (Japanese Dancers), 1966 presents an initial assessment of figures through the artist’s Raster technique. Returning to his fabric of dots, later works such as Untitled, 2004 and Putti (Sie erleben heute im privaten Bereich zahlreiche Glücksmomente) (Putti (You Experience Countless Moments of Joy in Your Private Life Today)), 2007, with their iridescent surfaces and experimental engagement with colour, display the artist’s preoccupation with the systematic Raster technique, so powerfully and fastidiously presented in Tänzerin.

    In Tänzerin, the artist has skilfully enlarged his subject and intricately reproduced the effect of printed matter by returning to his 1960s technique of rendering his detailed scrim of dots by hand. Entwining notions of imagery and painting, the artist accentuates the pictorial essence of the work, a quotation of the source image. Speaking about this technique, the artist commented ‘My Raster paintings are about reproduction, printing errors and efforts at personal expression, to the point where the model disappears and what lies behind it appears and becomes something original and singular’ (Sigmar Polke, quoted in Bice Curiger, ‘La peinture est une ignominie’, Artpress, no. 91, April 1985, p. 4). Through the immeasurable presence of Polke’s dots, the viewer is gradually transported toward an imaginary world; sublimity is achieved through an emotional reaction. Together with his fellow Capitalist Realists, Polke became increasingly concerned with the rejection of the ubiquitous art of the time and occupied with the depiction of daily commodities, each artist engaging with a media rich approach and the utilisation of fragmented images. In a similar vein to American Pop Art, the Capitalist Realists cast aside symbolic modes of communication and focused on the trifles of life. Bringing his Raster dots to the fore, Polke sought to expose the false reality of the commercial focus of popular culture. Addressing the notion of desire within consumerism, Polke masterfully alters the source images through the calculated use of Raster dots each varying in scale and configuration. Framed within an apparent white border, the appropriated nature of the source image in Tänzerin, is brought to the fore, the artist’s deconstruction of commercial imagery and desirable norms confirmed.

    In the same way, Polke’s Pop contemporary, Roy Lichtenstein, used ‘benday dots’ to compose enlarged and painterly depiction of popular imagery. In direct contrast however, Lichtenstein’s ‘benday dots’ form the ground of his subject matter, where Polke masterfully traces the imagery in the dots itself. Escaping the exultant neatly distinct imagery of Lichtenstein, Polke experimented with a range of density, sizes and tones in his pixels. Acutely aware of commercial advertising material and the increasingly commoditized notion of desire, Polke highlights how ‘the dots in a magnified picture swim and move about. The way that motifs change from recognizable to unrecognizable, the undecided, ambiguous nature of the situation, the way it remains open. ...Nothing is so effective as Raster pictures when it comes to destroying the naive acceptance of technical pictures as depicting ‘things from the world on a flat surface’ (Sigmar Polke, quoted in Martin Hentschel, “Solve et Coagula: On Sigmar Polke’s Work,” in Hans Belting, Sigmar Polke: The Three Lies of Painting, exh. cat., Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 1997, p. 54). Both artists harness the power of compositional elements, forging new pockets of abstraction within their own realm. Carefully tracing the dancer through varied shades of ink, no dot the same, the artist engrosses the viewer in an unexpected motion, our perception tracing the moving outline of the graceful figure as the epitome of desire.

    Here, the captivating dancer who represents the epitome of desire, is distinct from Polke’s less glamorous depictions of the conflicting factors moulding the German post-war experience; the present work, executed in 1994, is innocently graceful and freed from connotations with the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). Bitingly dissecting consumer society, many of Polke’s borrowed source images are unequivocally figurative. Appealingly simplified in their Raster composition, the viewer is fully drawn into the scene. Celebrated for conjuring formative depictions of women, including Freundinnen (Girlfriends), 1965 (Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart), Japanische Tänzerinnen (Japanese Dancers), 1966 and Bunnies, 1966 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.), the present work intrigues and entices the viewer, the dancing figure appearing mirage-like from a metallic ground whilst simultaneously being out-of-reach, veiled underneath Polke’s distinctive network of patterned dots.

    Surrounded by the ingenuity and discourse of fellow co-founders of the Capitalist Realist movement, namely Konrad Lueg (later Konrad Fischer), Gerhard Richter, Manfred Kuttner, Joseph Beuys and the artists of the confrontational Fluxus movement, Polke was immersed and actively engaged in the tendency for questioning cultural norms and exploring provocative narratives. In the early 1960s, Polke established his iconic style that spanned his five-decade long career, challenging artistic notions from an early stage in his career. It was within this context that the artist began creating his Raster paintings. Throughout his prolific and innovative career he developed and refined this style, elevating half-tone Raster printing, typically used in advertising, newspapers and magazines, to a painterly artistic technique. Reflecting his and his fellow Capitalist Realist painters’ early fundamental critique of mass media culture in the 1960s, the Raster paintings deconstruct the principle mode of illustrating reality: photography.

    Distinct from other later examples, the entire surface of Tänzerin is composed in the Raster technique. This rarity paired with Polke’s mastery of alchemy and exploration of abstraction and figuration, Tänzerin is exquisitely enchanting and visually arresting. A magisterial synthesis of the artist’s command of chemical effects, conjuring of figurative motifs and hand finished scrim of dots, Tänzerin, is an exceptional and distinctive composition celebrating the essence of Polke’s artistic output. Never before seen outside its domestic setting, the present work in its graceful assertiveness is homage to the gravitas of the artist’s monumental and internationally acclaimed realisations.

Property from a Private German Collection



signed and dated 'S Polke '94' on the reverse; further signed, dedicated and dated 'Sigmar Polke '94' on the stretcher
acrylic and interference colour on canvas
100.5 x 80.3 cm (39 5/8 x 31 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1994, this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.

£2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for £3,369,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017