Monday, 6 March 2017

Sigmar Polke, a small piece of him.

Sigmar Polke was born in 1941 in Oels. Oels is now in Poland where it's called Oelsnica but Polke has always been considered a German artist. There was quite a lot going on along the German Polish border in the 40s, you may've heard.

Him and his family were expelled, as Germans, from Lower Silesia when he was a child. They moved to Thuringia in East Germany and then, to escape communism, eight years later they relocated to West Berlin and, eventually, Dusseldorf. Polke was not yet a teenager.

In his adult life his style of art has been almost as transitory as the young Polke. After a spell as a photographer he pioneered, along with Gerhard Richter, a style called Capitalist Realism (or Kapitalistisher Realismus if you'd prefer). It was named as if to poke fun at the Soviet Union's Social Realist school but owed more to the Pop Art of the US and the UK. There were even nods to the Abstract Expressionism that had begun to dominate American art at the time.

But, in the same way that krautrock bands like Can and Neu, took influence from those places yet created a wholly German aesthetic with the tools they'd been handed, Polke and Richter wanted their work to be proudly German. In the post-war years this was obviously fraught and they needed to find a new way of being German. Polke's approach was to not be afraid to send up capitalist mores and the language of mass media alongside his evocations of concentration camps and bodily fluids. He was attacking the present, the future even, just as much as he was the past.

He passed away in 2010 and the current show, Pour Paintings on Paper, at the Michael Werner gallery in Mayfair, sadly, eschews much of his politicised comment for the more 'experimental' works he made towards the end of his life when he became interested in 'higher powers' and 'the transformative potential of materials'.

These paintings show poured paint floating in a dark, and annoyingly for photographic purposes, highly reflective, void. They're easy on the eye. They look nice. But unless you're the kind of person who believes in 'higher powers', and more so that they can be accessed through art, you're not going to spend very long looking at them. A temporary distraction at best.

It's said that the viewer's understanding of the picture changes with different perspectives but surely that's true of any art, or indeed any thing at all, ever. Besides what you see, mostly, is your own reflection. If I wanted to go to a hall of mirrors I'm sure I could've found one.

This show is just a tiny part of what Polke was all about and it'd be unfair of me to judge it too harshly, after all it's not like they're charging to get in, but, on its own, it won't give you a very clear understanding of Polke. For that you really needed to go to Tate Modern's Alibis exhibition and that finished over two years ago!

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