Potato Machine (Kartoffelmaschine), or Apparatus Whereby One Potato Can Orbit Another (Apparat, mit dem eine Kartoffel eine andere umkreisen kann)


Sigmar Polke ( German, 1941 - 2010 )

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General Description

A staple of the postwar German diet and evidence of the devastation of the country in the war's aftermath, potatoes were a recurring motif in Sigmar Polke's work. In reference to his use of the potato, Polke's close friend, psychologist Friedrich Wolfram Heubach wrote, "Yes, if there is anything at all that satisfies all the attributes of the artist: joy in innovation, creativity, spontaneity, productivity, creation out of one's very self, and so forth, - then it's the potato: as lying there in the dark cellar, with total spontaneity it begins to sprout."

This piece in particular references and satirizes Marcel Duchamp's 1913 Bicycle Wheel, an early readymade that demonstrated the incorporation of ordinary, mass-produced objects into works of art. Bicycle Wheel, which also included a bar stool, consisted of a bicycle fork and front wheel mounted upside-down on the wooden seat. Elevating the humble potato to the status of art, Polke cynically and absurdly creates his own readymade, commenting both on the dominance of the readymade in conceptual art and the attempt to use everyday materials in art as a means for connecting art making to daily life.

Adapted from

Anna Katherine Brodbeck, ed., TWO X TWO X TWENTY: Two Decades Supporting Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art), 2018, 29.

Fun Facts

  • Installation instructions from the gallery where this work was purchased indicate that, "two similarly-sized baking potatoes are required."

Web Resources

  • ArtNews
    Read, "MoMA Curators Ponder Polke Potato Problem."

  • YouTube
    Watch a short video of Potato Machine in motion.