Artists & Designers

Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)

Sigmar Polke was born in former East Germany in what is now Olesnica, Poland, in 1941. In 1961 he moved to Dusseldorf, Germany, and began his studies at Düsseldorf Art Academy. Polke first gained attention in the mid-1960s for the works he created as part of the Capitalist Realism group, which included Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg (later Konrad Fischer). Like Gerhard Richter, Polke used images and ideas found in the history of art as well as in the public realm, and looked at how photography and photographic reproduction inform and define our world. Polke cast his visual net wide: from the quaint historicism of the German Grimm Brothers' fairy tales, to the inane and surreal humor of the latest tabloids, to the quasi-scientific investigations of intergalactic dust, he created work that challenged conventional ideas about the relationship between objective reproduction and subjective production, authorship and originality, and about canonical works and styles of art history.

Works such as Splatter Analysis [2003.5] and Cook it up with a Culinary Flair [2003.6], suggest how our methods of representing the world through pictures, graphs, language, and even art remain open to question and interpretation. Splatter Analysis, one of the "gun paintings," develops a complex shooting metaphor intertwined with themes of focus, vision, and seeing. In Cook it up with Culinary Flair, Polke used cheap printed fabrics for the painting surface. The rearranging of typical scale and proportion and the reversal of traditional notions of male power speak to larger themes of skewed vision and perception in much of Polke's work. Polke's painting, Clouds [2000.388] inspired by Belgian author Marguerite Yourcenar's tale of a court artist in dynastic China, resonates with many different art historical genres and media, including the vocabulary of Chinese calligraphy and landscape depictions.

Polke lectured at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg from 1970 to 1971. He was made professor in 1975 and taught there until 1991. Polke died in Cologne, Germany, in 2010.

Drawn from

Web Resources

  • Tate
    Watch a short video about Sigmar Polke.
  • Tate
    Read more about the artist and see more examples of his work.
  • The Art Story
    Learn more about Sigmar Polke.
  • Art in America
    Read the article "Polke's Plenitude."
  • The Art Channel
    Watch a conversation about a Sigmar Polke exhibition at Tate Modern.