PRINT January 2014

Focus Preview

Sigmar Polke

Sigmar Polke, Untitled (detail), 1975, photographic emulsion, acrylic, and spray paint on canvas, 15 3/4 x 19 3/4". © The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne/ARS, New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Museum of Modern Art, New York
April 19–August 3
Curated by Kathy Halbreich with Mark Godfrey and Lanka Tattersall

HAS ANY ARTIST OF THE LAST FIFTY YEARS more successfully combined relentless material innovation, slyly subtle wit, and voracious cultural rummaging than Sigmar Polke? From the laconic jokiness of his early Pop compositions to the cacophonous and often mutable surfaces of his later paintings—where resin, silver nitrate, iodine, chloride, beeswax, granulated meteorite, and pigment of violets, to list only a few of his materials, are deployed to brilliant effect—the German artist, who died in 2010, tested the bounds of imagemaking like few others of his generation. The targets of his intricately formulated pictorial investigations? Again, to name just a few: doughnuts, Lee Harvey Oswald, concentration-camp watchtowers, Playboy, utopian abstraction, global tourism, and Alice in Wonderland. Polke’s curiosity was insatiable, always laced with a fine-tuned skepticism—and fueled, for years, by his ongoing and near-encyclopedic experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs.

The Museum of Modern Art’s upcoming Polke retrospective, the first in nearly twenty years, promises an ideal opportunity to reassess this heterogeneous, revelatory practice. Organized in conjunction with Tate Modern, the show will include more than three hundred works, making it one of the largest in MoMA’s history. All Polke’s varied media—painting, drawing, photography, print, film, and sculpture—will be on display, reaching from the early days of Capitalist Realism (as Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Konrad Lueg astutely dubbed their German Pop variant) to such recent works as the artist’s twenty-foot-high digital print The Hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, 2002, and his monumental series in soot on glass, “Untitled,” 1990. This remarkable range, and the inclusion of several rarely and never-before-seen projects, will allow for an unprecedented look at the material cross-pollination that drove Polke’s production throughout.

Accompanying this mammoth presentation will be an equally hefty catalogue, featuring new writing on Polke by a diverse selection of contributors including Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Paul Chan, Tacita Dean, and Christine Mehring. Combining the insights of scholars and artists and covering, for the first time, the full chronological and material span of Polke’s career, MoMA’s presentation promises to mimic the multifarious intensity of his works themselves—whose historical role and ongoing relevance it should bring into focus as never before.

Graham Bader