Sigmar Polke

West German Pavilion, Biennale

Sigmar Polke’s installation in the West German Pavilion was experimental in the truest sense of the word. The title of the project—“Athanor,” the alchemist’s kiln—indicated its alchemic thesis. However, the radical character of Polke’s undertaking sharply distinguished it from the casual treatment of this theme in the Biennale exhibit “Arte e Alchimia” (Art and alchemy). Polke’s alchemic art has little to do with the systematic pursuit of a hermetic science; it is meant, rather, as a metaphor for a way of understanding reality that is truly receptive and hospitable to the unknown. The goal of his alchemy, as Dierk Stemmler put it in the catalogue, is to "conjure forth the human species . . . through vast stretches of time and space, using reagents that work from afar and utopias of color.”

The installation’s dramatic tension was initiated by two “art objects” borrowed from nature, a meteorite

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