Re-imaged V

Sigmar Polke Mao 1972

The idea that painting can save your life crescendos in a deeply moving installation, one in which you grasp the dilemma of being a young German painter at a time when your language is anathema, your parents are outcasts, and your country is hated. Seeing these artists fight their way back into the story of painting can take your breath away. Anselm Kiefer’s 1972 picture of an empty wooden room isn’t only a painting of receding interior space; it’s the 27-year-old clearing the psychic skeletons from the attic and dreaming of an undiscovered room in the house of painting. Georg Baselitz’s Frankensteinian figure is a perfect stand-in for what it must have felt like to be a German artist at the time. Sigmar Polke’s 1972 portrait of Mao surrounded by cover girls, crowds, newspaper headlines, and ads is jacked up on so many historical, stylistic, and consumerist hormones that it makes Pop Art seem quaint.” [Jerry Saltz’s review of What is Painting]

Gerhard Richter Kegel Grid (Cone) 1985

The Abstract Expressionists were amazed at the pictorial quality of their productions, the wonderful world that opens up when you just paint. And in the evolution that led to Tachism, the Informel, this irrepressible image-quality – that is, this ability to communicate – showed itself even (or rather especially) through the radically new, mechanical techniques of picture-production. It was as if these paintings were producing themselves; and the less deliberate the painters were about infusing them with their own content and mental images, the better the paintings became. But the problem is this: not to generate any old thing with all the rightness and spontaneity of Nature, but to produce highly specific pictures with highly specific messages (were it not for this, painting would be the simplest thing in the world, since in Nature any old blot is perfectly right and correct.)
Even so , I have to start with the ‘blot’, and not with the new content (if I could exempt myself from that, I should then have to look for an appropriate way of representing it).  With all the techniques at my command, especially those of elimination, I have to try to compel something that I cannot visualize – something that goes further and is better and more right than my own pre-existing opinion and intention – to appear as an existing picture of something. [Gerhard Richter Writings 1961-2007]

Sigmar Polke Untitled 1982

With his charisma and charm, his fur coat and snakeskin trousers, Polke was king of the scene—a word that was then only just coming into use. He drew sustenance from the collective and gave back generously. Nomadically, excessively, he traveled between Hamburg, where he held a professorship at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (teaching, or at least hanging out with, Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen, and Georg Herold, among others), and his commune in Willich, near Düsseldorf, where he entertained an ever-changing assemblage of guests ranging from Michael Buthe to Katharina Sieverding. He sojourned frequently in Zurich, too, where he could escape Germany’s politically fraught atmosphere and enjoy the society of the city’s miscellaneous bohemians. In 1974, he went farther afield, setting out on a road trip with two or three of his Zurich friends that took him through Afghanistan and Pakistan—in an American convertible. He wound up in Quetta, Pakistan, where he took his famous photos of hashish smokers and dog-and-bear fights…
His ’70s excursions into photography, too, would leave their mark on his later painting practice. He transferred his experimentation with photochemistry from the darkroom to the studio, where he would use silver bromide, for example, to create surfaces that were subject to slow change over the years that followed the process of production. Thus the ’70s appear, quite logically, to have been a copula, a hinge between the cheerfully ironic works of the ’60s and the audaciously erudite art Polke produced over the last thirty years of his life. With its prodigious use of images and textual snippets appropriated from mass-media sources, moreover, Wir Kleinbürger! anticipates the extension of Polke’s practice to the remotest corners of cultural production. The cycle finds him developing his own highly volatile laboratory of images in which matter itself took on the role of a generator of creative energy. [Bice Curgier on Sigmar Polke]

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