Sigmar Polke

Year of birth, place
1941, Oels, Poland
Year of death, place
2010, Köln, Germany
Role at the ZKM
in the collection
Sigmar Polke was born in Oels, Silesia (now Poland) in 1941 and moved to Germany in 1953. He initially trained as a glass painter (until 1959) in the Kaiserwerth district of Düsseldorf, later (1961-67) studying at the Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf under K.O. Götz and Gerhard Hoehme. In 1963, together with Konrad Fischer-Lueg and Gerhard Richter, he founded »Capitalist Realism«. He taught at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg. During the 1970s he travelled extensively in Asia and America. He lives in Cologne.

Polke's work is notable for a great range of techniques - be it in painting, drawing or photography. In the 1960s he began to paint deliberately trivial subject matter on various painting supports - less often conventional canvas than decorating textiles, blankets of fake fur - partly incorporating rough grid patterns of the sort detectable in photographic reproduction. Drawn motifs, often derived from book illustrations or photographs reproduced in newspapers, were superimposed to create densely coloured layers. Fragments of text were often added as enigmatic commentary to the early paintings and drawings. Photography has played an important part in all of Polke's work. He first used it to document performance pieces and concepts; he began to combine it with other media in installations. Since the 1980s Polke's paintings and photographs have been dominated by experiments with colour and liquids, to the extent that many of his works resemble to traces left by alchemical experiments. 

Individual exhibitions (selection)
1966 Galerie h, Hannover (with Gerhard Richter); Galerie René Block, Berlin
1970 Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne
1976 »Sigmar Polke Bilder - Tücher - Objekte. Werkauswahl 1962-1972«, Kunsthalle Tübingen, subsequently at Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf; Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
1984 »Sigmar Polke«, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Cologne, subsequently at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Kunstmuseum, Bonn; Kunsthaus, Zürich
1988 »Sigmar Polke, Zeichnungen, Aquarelle, Skizzenbücher 1962-1988«, Kunstmuseum, Bonn
1990 »Sigmar Polke. Das photographische Werk«, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden; »Sigmar Polke«, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, subsequently at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C.; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
1992 »Sigmar Polke. Schilderijen«, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
1993 »Sigmar Polke. Neue Bilder 1992«, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach
1995 »Sigmar Polke. Join the dots«, Tate Gallery Liverpool; »Sigmar Polke's Photoworks. When Pictures Vanish«, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, subsequently at Site, Santa Fe; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1996 »Sigmar Polke - Transit«, Staatliches Museum, Schwerin
1997 »Sigmar Polke«, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, subsequently at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz; Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin
Group exhibitions (selection)

1964 »Neue Realisten«, Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal; »Neodada Pop Décollage Kapitalistischer Realismus«, Galerie René Block, Berlin
1972 documenta V, Kassel; »Amsterdam - Paris - Düsseldorf«, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
1977 documenta VI, Kassel
1981 »Westkunst«, Museums of the City of Cologne
1982 »Zeitgeist«, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; documenta VII, Kassel
1984 »Le Grand Parade«, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
1985 »German Art in the 20th Century, Painting and Sculpture 1905-1985«, Royal Academy of Arts, London, subsequently at Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart
1986 »The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985«, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, subsequently at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague
1989 »Bilderstreit«, Museum Ludwig, Rheinhallen, Cologne; »Magiciens de la terre«, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
1992 »Le Portrait de l'Art Contemporain«, Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Nice
1993 Biennale di Venezia, Venice (German Pavilion)
1994 »The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1790-1990«, Royal Scottish Academy and The Fruit Market Gallery, Edinburgh, subsequently at Hayward Gallery, London; Haus der Kunst, Munich
1995 »Revolution: Art of the Sixties from Warhol to Beuys«, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
1996 »Gerhard Richter - Sigmar Polke - Arnulf Rainer«, Sammlung Frieder Burda, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden; »Sammlungsblöcke, Stiftung Froehlich«, Tate Gallery, London, subsequently at Kunsthalle, Tübingen; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, and at venues in Hamburg and Vienna; »Sammlung Speck«, Museum Ludwig, Cologne
1997 »Die Epoche der Moderne«, Martin-Gropius Bau, Berlin; »Deutschlandbilder«, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

[Frauke Syamken, 1997]