Sigmar Polke, Freundinnen, 1965/1966, Dispersionsfarbe auf Leinwand, 150 × 190 cm, Sammlung Froehlich, Stuttgart, © 2015 The Estate of Sigmar Polke / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2015, Foto: © Froehlich Collection Archive

Alibis: Sigmar Polke. Retrospective

March 14 to Ju­ly 5, 2015

Sig­mar Polke (born 1941 Oels, Sile­sia [now Oleśni­ca, Po­land], died 2010 Cologne), was one of the most im­por­tant artists in re­cent de­cades. The ex­hi­bi­tion dis­plays works span­n­ing from 1963 to 2010; his ex­ten­sive oeu­vre has not been the sub­ject of a ret­ro­spec­tive since the ex­hi­bi­tion mount­ed in 1997 at the Bun­deskun­sthalle, Bonn, and the Ham­burg­er Bahn­hof, Ber­lin. The ret­ro­spec­tive open­ing at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig on March 14, 2015, af­ter hav­ing been shown in New York and Lon­don, is thus the first in over fif­teen years and al­so the first since the artist’s death.

It is al­so for the first time that all the me­dia with which the artist en­gaged in­ten­sive­ly through­out his ca­reer are brought to­gether in one ex­hi­bi­tion, em­pha­siz­ing the fact that Polke’s work al­ways re­sist­ed clas­si­fi­ca­tion in art-his­tor­i­cal terms.

The rough­ly 250 items on dis­play, many of them nev­er shown be­fore in Ger­many, in­clude not on­ly paint­ings and draw­ings, with which he achieved his rep­u­ta­tion, but al­so prints, sketch­books, ob­jects, sculp­tures, pho­to­graphs, films, slide in­s­tal­la­tions, and pho­to­copy pie­ces. This in­clu­sive ap­proach re­veals how Polke com­bined dif­fer­ent me­dia and blurred the dist­inc­tions be­tween them. Some of his pain­t­ings, for ex­am­­ple, in­­­cor­po­rate pho­­to­­graph­ic ma­te­rials and others are based on raster dots de­rived from prin­t­­ed im­ages; paint­ings are based on raster dots de­rived from prin­t­­ed im­ages; pho­to­graphs be­come unique works through in­ter­ven­tions in the de­vel­op­ment pro­cess; and film ex­erts a per­va­sive in­flu­ence on all his work. The ti­tle of the ex­hi­bi­tion al­ludes to the new kind of artist that Polke rep­re­sent­ed: the artist who con­sis­tent­ly de­fies ex­pec­ta­tions.

The show’s ti­tle al­so points to the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal di­men­sion of Polke’s art, evok­ing eva­sive at­ti­tudes to­ward Ger­many’s Nazi past in the post­war de­cades. In fact, no other artist’s work re­flects his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in West Ger­many as close­ly as his. Polke’s paint­ings of the 1960s al­lude iron­i­cal­ly to the con­sumer so­ci­e­ty that flour­ished in the wake of the coun­try’s “e­co­nom­ic mir­a­cle,” while his col­lab­o­ra­tive works of the fol­low­ing de­cade ab­sorb el­e­ments of mass cul­ture and em­brace a wide range of me­dia to re­fer to new so­cial trends and their sub­cul­tures. In the large ab­s­tract paint­ings he be­gan pro­duc­ing in the 1980s he used new ma­te­rial­s—pho­to­chem­i­cal, heat- and mois­ture-sen­si­tive sub­s­tances, even tox­ic el­e­ment­s—­to gen­er­ate unsettling, am­bi­va­lent ef­fects. One work is am­bigu­ous­ly ti­tled See­ing Things as They Are. Sig­ni­f­i­cant­ly, the phrase ap­pears in re­v­erse in the paint­ing. This de­sire to sub­vert the “s­traight­for­ward” facts of the vis­i­ble world by in­vert­ing them drove Polke to en­gage ar­tis­ti­cal­ly with ev­er new ma­te­rials and tech­niques.

Polke was based in Cologne for over thir­ty years. Show­ing his work in the Rhine­­land ci­­ty in which it was cre­at­ed lends it spe­­cial rel­e­­vance. This is nowhere more ap­par­ent than in his films, a broad se­lec­tion of which is in­clud­ed in the ex­hi­bi­tion. Film cam­eras formed an in­te­gral part of Polke’s artis­tic equip­ment from the mid-1960s up to his death, but he showed his films in public on­ly on rare oc­ca­sions and in care­ful­ly pre­pared pre­sen­ta­tions. At a sym­po­si­um or­ganized by the Mu­se­um Lud­wig in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cologne from June 12 to 14, 2015, they will be ex­amined in the con­text of the vi­brant film ac­tiv­i­ty in the Rhine­land dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s.

The Mu­se­um Lud­wig is mak­ing a fur­ther con­tri­bu­tion of its own to the ex­hi­bi­tion by fea­tur­ing a num­ber of gener­ous gifts of work by Polke it has re­ceived over the years. The ear­ly raster paint­ing Head (1966), for in­s­tance, en­tered the col­lec­tion in 1974 as part of an an­niver­sary do­na­tion. Fur­ther items from the col­lec­tion in the show are an un­ti­tled work (1986), Ruin (1994), the trans­par­ent paint­ing Front Win­dow (al­so 1994), and a near- com­plete set of artist’s edi­tions by Polke that was pre­sent­ed to the mu­se­um in 2009.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is or­ganized by The Mu­se­um of Mod­ern Art, New York, with Tate Mod­ern, Lon­don. It was ini­ti­at­ed and or­ganized by Kathy Hal­breich, As­so­ci­ate Di­rec­tor, The Mu­se­um of Mod­ern Art, with Mark God­frey, Cu­ra­tor, In­ter­na­tio­n­al Art, Tate Mod­ern, and Lan­ka Tat­ter­sall, Cu­ra­to­rial As­sis­tant, De­part­ment of Paint­ing and Sculp­ture, The Mu­se­um of Mod­ern Art. The pre­sen­ta­tion at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig is or­ganized by Bar­bara En­gel­bach, Cu­ra­tor, Con­tem­po­rary Art Col­lec­tion, Pho­tog­ra­phy and Film, Mu­se­um Lud­wig, Cologne.

Pa­tron of the ex­hi­bi­tion is the Min­is­ter-Presi­dent of the Ger­man Fed­er­al State of North Rhine-West­phalia, Han­nelore Kraft.

At the Mu­se­um Abteiberg Mönchenglad­bach: SIG­MAR POLKE: Venice 1986 – Films and Satel­lites of the 1986 Bien­nale

Six monu­men­tal “plas­tic seal” pic­tures made for the Ger­man pav­ilion at the 1986 Venice Bien­nale, which the mu­se­um ac­quired in 1989, will be on view at the Mu­se­um Abteiberg Mönchenglad­bach from March 15 to Ju­ly 5.
Ad­di­tio­n­al­ly, the mu­se­um will pre­sent pre­vi­ous­ly unseen films as well as other ma­te­rials Polke cre­at­ed for the Ger­man pav­ilion.
The Mu­se­um Abteiberg can be reached by train in less than 1 hour from Cologne.
Open­ing: Sun­day, March 15, noon
Ex­hi­bi­tion: March 15-Ju­ly 5, 2015­se­

With kind sup­port by
Spon­sored by
Me­dia Part­n­er
Mo­bil­i­ty Part­n­er

Have a com­fort­able jour­ney to the ex­hi­bi­tion "Sig­mar Polke" and back within three days with the Spar­preis Kul­tur. The saver tick­et starts at EUR 39.00 in se­cond class and EUR 59.00 in first class. Four fur­ther peo­ple may join the same jour­ney and save EUR 10 each. It is valid within Ger­many and al­so avai­l­able for ICE con­nec­tions. Chil­dren un­der 15 trav­el for free if they are ac­com­panied by their par­ents or grand­par­ents. Please note that the tick­ets must be purchased at least one day in ad­vance and are sub­ject to avai­l­a­bil­i­ty. The Spar­preis Kul­tur is on­ly avai­l­able from 14th De­cem­ber, 2014 in com­bi­na­tion with an en­trance tick­et to the ex­hi­bi­tion at the DB trav­el cen­tres and DB agen­cies within Ger­many.­tur