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Indepth Arts News:

"Sigmar Polka: Alhemist"
2001-03-30 until 2001-07-29
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Humlebæk, , DK

Artistic quality cannot be measured, but you can measure the demand for an artist. At least according to the international magazine Capital, which once a year publishes its art compass – a list of the 100 artists most in demand – based on participation in group and solo exhibitions at selected, prestigious museums all over the world. In 2000, the German painter Sigmar Polke came in as number one, well ahead of such colleagues as Gerhard Richter and Bruce Nauman.

However, Louisiana does not plan its exhibitions according to Capitals art compass. The museum has its own instruments of navigation, but on these, too, the needles have been pointing to Sigmar Polke for several years. It has now finally been possible – in collaboration with the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo – to organize an exhibition that offers a retrospective view of Polke’s artistic output, focuses on some of his major works, and includes recent works by the artist. Louisiana has considered it important to give the exhibition this kind of broad scope, since it is the first real introduction to Polkes extensive oeuvre in Denmark.

Sigmar Polke was born in Silesia in 1941 and attended the Art Academy in Düsseldorf during the first half of the 1960s. At the start of his career he worked together with Gerhard Richter, among others, but later went his own way. Today Richter and Polke are unquestionably the two contemporary German artists who have attracted the most attention internationally and exerted the greatest influence on younger generations of artists.

Polkes work is explosive. It embraces numerous styles, often brought together in a single work, which may subtly move from expressive, wild painting to ironic, historical painting. It can be at once narrative, open, hermetic and mysterious. Polke is not easily categorised. This does not mean that his pictures cannot be interpreted. On the contrary, there is almost a surplus of meaning in his work. It is a house with many entrances: it confronts the lightness of Pop art with the seriousness of Minimalism, places the patterns and ornaments found on the imaginative wallpaper of children’s rooms in juxtaposition to elements from the grand artistic tradition, from Goya and Goethe. Viewed as a totality, the work becomes a magical/realistic account of our extremely visual culture and the infinite layers of meaning that meet the eye, if it really goes on discovery.

Polkes attitude to materials, to the physical elements of painting, is unique. He is a sort of modern alchemist who works with exotic chemicals, allowing them to live a life of their own on the paintings surface. Often he has to paint out of doors, because the substances he pours over his gigantic canvases are too toxic to work with indoors. The results are strange pictures of an almost natural beauty, which combine the miniature world of bacteria, as seen under a microscope, with what most of all looks like an adventurous journey to the centre of the earth. This is especially true of one of the absolute masterpieces of the exhibition: Apparizione – a triptych measuring 9 x 4 meters!

Those who talk about the death of painting always forget Sigmar Polke. In his work, the art of painting has survived, full of vigour, ambiguous, rich in perspective, humorous, mythological and fantasising - in short: apparently inexhaustible. Polke continues to surprise us. He can make even the needle of the compass dizzy.

The exhibition comprises about 50 works, executed between 1963 and 1999, and has been organized in consultation with the artist himself. An exhibition catalogue will be published in both a Danish and an English version. The Danish version will be the spring volume of Louisiana Revy and will include an article by Louisiana’s director, Poul Erik Tøjner.

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