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

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection Rhineland (acquired directly from the artist)
    Private Collection, North Rhine-Westphalia

  • Catalogue Essay

    An exquisite marriage of tonal alchemy and balletic movement, Sigmar Polke’s Untitled, executed in 1997, gracefully exemplifies the artist’s enthralling painterly vocabulary. Polke’s extensive experimentation with materials to create form and dynamism is evident in the present work, which channels his sophisticated rendering of flat figurative elements against a sumptuous array of fluid colour to create a complex pictorial layering. This distinct and iconic merging of form and chromacity has rendered him one of the most radically experimental artists of the twentieth century, with his depictions of dancers amongst the very best examples from his prolific oeuvre. Polke’s elegance of line was recently celebrated in the Sigmar Polke: Alchemy and Arabesque exhibition held earlier this year at the Museum Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden, which presented his studies of movement and colour on an international stage. Capturing an intimate snapshot of bodies in motion, Untitled is a stunningly dynamic work, which courses with irresistible kinetic energy.

    Illuminating the centre of the plane, white paint provides a celestial nucleus in the middle of Polke's composition. White, therefore, acts independently as a subject within the work, its radiance emphasised by the black ink and blending of blue greys across the work. The background adopts the shifting quality of an overcast sky with the white becoming sunlight breaking through the clouds. This light, combined with the flowers’ yellow, introduces an optimism alongside the natural cadence of the paper. The white and yellow areas of paint unleash the potential of the plane, alluding to notions of a symbiotic relationship between art, nature and creativity. Painterly gestures swirl in unison, merging together to form the impression of a female torso, the aesthetic stratums of layered forms traversing the fore- and background in tandem with the viewer’s fluctuating gaze.

    In Polke’s rhythmic work on paper, a vase of flowers in the foreground offers a static focal point for the viewer’s eye, conversely vibrating with a natural life force. From behind these flowers the figure of a woman emerges, her nude body splashed with the flowers’ yellow. Polke instils each gesture with energy as vertical lines of ink lift the viewer’s eye away from the still-life and into the heavenly background, where we are suspended amidst smoky acrylic swirls in which three women are clearly demarcated. Each figure is frozen mid-movement providing a study of the human body in motion. Their presence is ephemeral and the viewer feels as if they might imminently melt into the hazy background, a transience felt also in Polke’s Freundinnen (Girlfriends), 1965 (Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart) and Japanische Tänzerin (Japanese Dancers), 1966 (Private Collection). The image is in a state of flux and the semi-transparent figures evoke the appearance of a stained glass window, moving around the plane in a storyboard format; Polke invites the viewer to project their own evocative narrative into the work.

    From Henri Matisse to Edgar Degas, Polke continues his dialogue with some of the most masterful artists of the twentieth century who have concentrated on movement and dance as subject matter for their paintings. The present work demonstrates Polke’s magnetic ability to skirt the borders of abstraction and figuration, allowing the viewer a captivating insight into his unique poetic vision. The combination of artistic mediums creates a visual harmony, as broader flourishes of thicker acrylic paint juxtaposes with the clearly delineated lines of black ink. The shorter, increasingly staccato lines of black ink embody Polke’s exploration of the dot, which form the basis of his iconic Raster works. Stylistically echoing the work of Roy Lichtenstein whilst defying categorisation, Polke’s Raster works explore the depiction of form through a cosmic net of dots, rendered entirely by hand to create the illusion of depth and movement.

    The group of three dancing figures in Untitled draws upon an iconic canonical image of dancers, namely Matisse’s La danse, 1909 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). Matisse himself referred to his painting in Still Life with The Dance, 1909 (Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), which was later visually referenced by Lichtenstein in his seminal work, Artist's Studio, ‘The Dance’ , 1974, (Museum of Modern Art, New York). Whereas Matisse’s original epochal work explores the idea of lyrical sublimity achieved through harmonious collective movement, Lichtenstein focuses upon the painterly and the tangible. Art symbolises a creative life force in his work, just as in Polke’s work the overt splashes of paint seems to breathe life into the movement of the three women, as well as the static, table-top flowers. Polke’s painterly washes bleed into one another, prompting the viewer’s eye to oscillate between the flowers’ intermingled yellows and green, creating a melodic timbre of dynamism. The loose colour application, as well as Polke’s dreamy painterly perspective, transports us to an ethereal realm, where movement and form create tension within the two-dimensional composition. Like Matisse’s dancers, in the present work, Polke invokes a pure harmony, achieved through collective motion, colour-play and composition mastery.



signed and dated 'Sigmar Polke '97' lower right
acrylic and ink on paper
100 x 69.7 cm (39 3/8 x 27 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1997, this work is registered in the Estate of Sigmar Polke under no. 14/00593 and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £489,000

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