dinsdag 27 maart 2018

The Romanticism of a Young Man in Love Photographien Paris 1971 Sigmar Polke Photography

Photographien Paris 1971
by Polke, Sigmar
Koln: Jablonka Galerie & Walther Konig, 1989. Hardcover. First edition, first printing. 89 pages; b&w plates throughout; 9.5 x 11 inches. Text in German. The first monograph of photographs by the German artist, Sigmar Polke (1941-2010).

Sigmar Polke’s Photographic Works Make a Rare Appearance at Paris Photo
Polke's insatiable drive to experiment extended to his stunning photography.

Hili Perlson, November 10, 2017

Sigmar Polke, Untitled (Tuileries, Paris), (circa 1970). Courtesy Kicken Berlin, Berlin & Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf

An artist who worked with every medium imaginable, it is hardly surprising that Sigmar Polke‘s irreverent experimentations extended to photography and its possibilities. At the Paris Photo fair this year, two German dealers—Sies + Höke from Düsseldorf and Kicken Berlin—are showing work from Polke’s most stunning series, which melded photography with painting.

“The Dunkelkammer was his Wunderkammer,” says Sies + Höke’s Corina Hein, describing, with a wonderful German simile, how the darkroom was like a cabinet of curiosities for Polke, who manipulated his prints with exposures and chemical processes that sound like a list of torture methods, and extended as far as to using radioactive uranium.

One of the many highlights on view at the joint booth is Polke’s Paris series, made between 1971 and ’72, which marks the beginning of the artist’s adventures in exploring the various ways he could manipulate the medium, while painting temporarily took a back seat.

Sigmar Polke, Untitled (Obelisk, Paris), (circa 1970). Courtesy Kicken Berlin, Berlin & Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf

The Paris series was made during Polke’s first trip to the French capital, and is seeped with the romanticism of a young man in love. He printed the images under the influence of LSD, over and under-exposing the film, used expired chemicals, and overlapping images.

The resulting kaleidoscopic, multilayered works were “most directly inspired by Polke’s attempt to find an equivalence between printing techniques and the perceptual and psychological effects of hallucinogenic drugs,” writes Paul Schimmel, who showed Polke’s photography at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 1995-96.

The Paris series also launched the artist’s photographic accounts of his wanderlust, with some of his most important series created on his travels to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1974.

Sigmar Polke, Quetta, Pakistan,(1974/1978). Courtesy Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf.

There, he captured bloody bear fights and opium dens. Works from this journey were developed in three different ways: as regular prints, underlayed with another photo, or manipulated and then hand-painted with egg tempera inks and other paints. These are some of the most painterly works he produced in this medium, and, as unique artworks, they come with a price tag that can reach up to €950,000 (over $1.1 million).

Interest in Polke’s photography is, unsurprisingly, mainly institutional. “We had a very good first day,” said Hein of Sies + Höke, which is participating at the fair for the first time. (Kicken Berlin, with whom they share the presentation, is a Paris Photo veteran).

Perhaps more suitable for private collectors, there are works starting at €12,000 ($14,000). More straight-forward photographs from the 1960s, which predate Polke’s experimental manipulations, show sculptural arrangements in his studio, or snaps of accidental and staged, collage-like, moments. These too evince Polke’s unique signature, which Schimmel best describes in his essay as “metaphysical and profound on the one hand, and jocular and deliberately dimwitted on the other.”

Paris Photo is open to the public at the Grand Palais until November 12.

Sigmar Polke: Photographic Obstruction
The Print Collector's Newsletter, Vol. XVI No. 3
The inherent ability to articulate objectively and organize the ephemera of the real world, to deliver a generosity of information rendered with clarity and precision, is a primary expectation of the photographic medium. Whether manipulative or interpretative, photographs utilize a vividly and consistently comprehensible vocabulary. Consequently, photographs exist as facts, and as such, arc privileged to the authority reserved for such irrefutable evidence. And, as facts, photogaphs most often reveal more than they attempt to conceal. One seldom leaves a photograph less informed than when one arrived.

The photographs of the German painter Sigmar Polke not confirm this characteristic, but contradict the factual immediacy of the photographic medium. The Alfred Kren Gallery in New York recently showed a series of 39 photographs Polke made in 1971. The occasion of an exhibition of photographs by Polke would seem to be a unique opportunity to gain insight to a body of work that has been notable for its elusiveness. But the veracity and specificity of the photographic medium has been effectively canceled, and this cancellation becomes a vehicle for Polke's predictably enigmatic and equivocal posture. Viewing the photographs induces the odd disorientation similar to, for instance, Hipping the stations on a television set in a foreign country: the familiarity of the medium is overwhelmed by the initially incomprehensible message.

Polke, who emigrated from East to West Germany in 1953, at age 12, emerged as a representative of the second generation of advanced artists in postwar Europe. In the early 1960s, Dusseldorf provided a nurturing alternative to the provincialism of the '50s and neutral ground from which to observe the activities of modernism in Paris and New York. Polke's early works can be interpreted as a response to and assimilation of the legacy of German Expressionism and the demise of Abstract Expressionism, and an affirmation of the American and British involvement with mediated imagery, the language of mechanical reproduction, and the valorization of mass culture iconography.

The European response to the Pop of the early '60s is the most obvious and recognizable issue in Polke's paintings. Polke and his colleagues contributed to the strategies of appropriation and recontextualization a characteristically European critique of the implicit ideology of representation in mass communication. The venerated romanticism of the modernist gesture was also appraised. Unlike Rauschenberg and in a less reticent, less diplomatic way than Johns, Polke includes abstract and tactile components in much of his early work as an ironic satirization of the enthusiasm and sincerity of this gesture. As with Rauschenberg, the conventions of painting's physical support were examined. Polke's use of unorthodox fabrics represented an acknowledgment of these mechanically reproduced visual artifacts and their ability to increase the density and complexity of the work.

Apart from this historical perspective, an understanding of Sigmar Polke's work is qualified by an acceptance of his specific ambiguity and his assertive rejection of commitment. The mythology that envelops his reputation is generated by this obscurity and a taciturn absence rather than presence. Polke is a voracious collector of images and information, but by constructing his own psychological labyrinth, disseminates little. This attitude is veiled by a veneer of neutrality and innocence, the camouflage needed by a pickpocket to work efficiently.

The series of photographs that arc under discussion here exemplifies these Polkean characteristics while at the same time undermining fundamental attributes of the photographic medium. Executed in Paris in 1971, the series of 39 prints utilizes, after the initial exposures had been made, a variety of darkroom techniques that are the dominant characteristic of the work. These darkroom manipulations provide greater compositional density and invention, and a gestural and free-form application of photographic chemistry that yields an abstracted and painterly object. These unorthodox photographic approaches include the printing of several negatives on the same sheet of photographic paper in an often overlapping and random sequence, the use of outdated photographic chemistry, which accounts for unpredictable tonal gradations and forms, and the sporadic brushing on of the developer to obtain a gestural and somewhat splotchy printing of the images. Within the discourse of' the photo.graphic community of the early '70s, these techniques suggested new options and an exploration of the potential of the medium. Experimentation with them paralleled social inquiries of the period and proposed a departure front the canons of' acceptable photo.graphic procedure. However, this correspondence between widespread photographic practice of the early '70s and Polke's own photographic methods is primarily visual. Polke uses the processes to obscure specificity and foreclose immediate interpretation, not to expand the photographic syntax. Polke uses photographs in his work mainly to investigate the manipulative tendency of processed images from popular culture. As a departure from the involvement with the formulas of depiction intrinsic in a mass image, this series of photographs is closer to the genre of thc snapshot, but without the formality of the amateur and the requisite self-consciousness of the camera's presence. There is a crude vulnerability and urgency, which infuses some passages in the work with an erotic tension. Some pictures possess a furtiveness reminiscent of surveillance and detective photographs. This sense of violated privacy emphasizes their implicit voyeurism; as observers we become increasingly separate from the intimacy of the participants. By its sequencing, repetition, and juxtapositions, the series assumes a narrative linearity, but one without the appropriate narrative conclusions and resolutions. Like the amateur, and perhaps pornographic home movie, our vision of the work is affected by the jumping flickering of images spliced together in random sequences. Woven into the fabric of the work arc various motifs and repeated images that, of course, are open to interpretation. But to speculate, for instance, that these photo.graphs form a cumulative portrait of a some.what anonymous woman is to impose an analysis of the work that would be presumptuous and irrelevant to what is of interest here. The information that the photographs were originally shot on a weekend in Paris, although helpful in synthesizing and detect.ing fragments from the whole, docs little to provide the adhesive for an intentionally in-cohesive group of pictures. There are, however, individual images that can be placed within the context of Polke's work, and serve as metaphors for it.

Several of the prints show a classical statue of a female figure juxtaposed against the nude woman with her legs spread apart and a dark, ovoid stain on the negative obscuring the genitalia of the recumbent figure. Other prints propose an equation between this statue and a profile of, presumably, the same woman whose identity remains unclear. These pictorial relationships arc significant, perceived within the context of Polke's involvement in the issues of representation. As the photograph serves as a reproduction of reality in our present culture, so did the statue in a previous culture. Both representations function as icons and participate in the same mythological tissue. But the representation of a heroicized reproduction versus a representation of present-day reality also illustrates a discrepancy.

Another motif appears throughout the series is that of a hand-held mirror reflecting a nude torso. As a photographic metaphor, a mirror is defined by what it reflects and democratically objectifies all with which it comes in contact. A mirror converts the data of the three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional format. Like a camera, a mirror requires light to operate; indeed, mirror is an integral component of the camera's internal apparatus. Dispassionate and reportorial, the process of mirroring is thus a metaphor for Polke's photographic position: the casual neutrality prior to a manipulation by process and sequential strategies.

There is one print that exists alone and is not repeated in the series. It depicts a snafu of tangled film negatives. In this manner, negatives are not allowed to fulfill their purpose: to convey visual information . These negatives are identified by their appearance, and not by function and, as strips of individual frames, acknowledge their relationship to sequential and cinematic conventions.

Particular formal devices in this series can be related to Polke's painting. Polke appropriates images for his paintings using successive generations of reproductions, which reduce the nuances and subtleties of the depicted forms to a schematically recognizable code of identity. In photographic practice, the negative is the stencil: light rather than paint is the medium that penetrates the material containing an outline. Every photograph is, in essence, a copy or a translation of an original negative of an original event. The idea of photographic translation is central to Polke's sensibility. The photographic practice of overlapping and double-exposing negatives is a conveniently mechanistic method that parallels the layering of information in the most complex of Polke's works.

Contributing to the density of information embedded in these photographs is the method of darkroom solarization of selected portions of the images the gestural application of photographic chemistry, which opposes conventional doctrine and renders a handwrought appearance to each unique image. In much of his recent painting, an abstract, almost lyrical appearance has manifested itself. Characteristically, this abstraction does not represent the tradition of expressionistic passages illustrating internal or mythic situations, but caricatures this cur.rent preoccupation in art. These intention.ally superficial gestures appear as chemical solvents, like photographic chemistry itself, which dismisses surface physicality. Through this chemical process, the applied solvents and surface of support have become inseparable. It is the parallel between the alchemy of the photographic surface and the amorphic passages of the recent paintings, and their similar transitions from images to abstraction, that is notable. In both media, Polke has imbued the works with a sense of organic corrosion that operates as an oppositional force and-as if having been left to the elements-appears fluid rather than passive and inert. Predictably, the recognizable visual data is concealed and obscured by this layer of murky flotsam. Sigmar Polke's significance, after decades of neglect from the American art community, is increasingly being acknowledged and affirmed within a critical and market con.text. That an audience would exist for this particular group of photographs, although testament to Polke's importance, is perhaps more the result of the way delayed recognition overcompensates for past errors in judgment. This phenomenon, as well as our appetite for material that would assist in decoding Polke's position, make it difficult to objectively assess the true value of this work.

At one extreme, these photographs do not deserve serious analysis and interest and, under other circumstances, would have remained within the private domain of the artist. Lending credence to the argument for mere notational status is the departure from Polke's usual working medium, despite his consistent interest and practice of photography. But, as has been delineated, the work parallels issues and sensibilities Polke has consistently pursued throughout his painting career. The bona ILGH relevance of the work is the extent to which this direct involvement with the photographic medium has influenced Polke's recent pictorial strategies.

Stephen Frailey is a photographer living in New York.

Punker in de wereld van de schilderkunst
Museum Ludwig en Keulen brengt een groot overzicht van de Duitse kunstenaar Sigmar Polke. Zijn oeuvre is op te vatten als één groot ironisch commentaar op kunst en maatschappij, en is nog altijd even actueel.

Janneke Wesseling
26 maart 2015

Het werk van Sigmar Polke houdt zich op in een tussenwereld: tussen sprookje en werkelijkheid, spel en serieus politiek engagement, dada-achtige anti-kunst en monumentale schilderkunst. Polke was een punker in de wereld van de kunst, altijd eropuit om gevestigde waarden onderuit te halen.

Polke schiep een rijk en eclectisch oeuvre, zo laat een overzichtstentoonstelling van ruim 250 werken in Museum Ludwig in Keulen zien. Dat oeuvre is op te vatten als één groot ironisch en kritisch commentaar op de kunst en op de maatschappij. Zijn werk is kwetsbaar en vergankelijk doordat hij bij voorkeur vluchtige en als het zo uitkwam giftige chemicaliën gebruikte. Polke wilde de werking van het beeld ondermijnen, corrumperen, perverteren. Dat deed hij met een lichtheid die, gezien de beladen onderwerpen die hij aansneed, verbazingwekkend is. Hij was een tovenaarsleerling die quasi onschuldig en met aanstekelijk plezier riskante experimenten uitvoerde. Sprookjesachtige visoenen, al dan niet teweeggebracht door geestverruimende middelen, alchemistische proefnemingen en spiritistische seances lopen als een rode draad door zijn werk.

In de jaren zestig hield Polke zich onder meer bezig met de geschiedenis van de twintigste-eeuwse avant-garde. Het schilderij Negerplastik (1968) parodieert de voorliefde van expressionisten voor ‘primitieve kunst’. Het toont een afbeelding van een ‘negersculptuur’, geschilderd op een geel stuk textiel dat bedrukt is met hertjes, konijnen en andere dieren uit een kinderprentenboek. Diagonaal over het doek zijn twee geometrische lijnen geschilderd. Naast de sculptuur is het doek beplakt met een strook leukoplast die beschilderd is met een abstract-expressionistische compositie. Collage, primitivisme, expressief ‘gebaar’, geometrische abstractie: Negerplastik is een staalkaart aan twintigste-eeuwse schilderstijlen.

Alchemistisch laboratorium
Polkes schilderijen van twintig jaar geleden zijn heel anders van karakter, ook al is er nog steeds de preoccupatie met rasterpatronen en met het over elkaar aanbrengen van verschillende verhaallijnen of beeldtalen. Hij schilderde monochrome doeken, die met hun monumentaliteit en met het pompeuze, grote gebaar de geest ademen van de heropleving van de schilderkunst in de jaren tachtig. Toch heeft Polke ook hier een ironische afstand bewaard. Zijn atelier lijkt zich te hebben getransformeerd tot alchemistisch laboratorium. Het schilderij Goldklumpen toont een vormeloze goudkleurige hoop tegen een groene ondergrond en een zwarte ‘lucht’. Het diepe goudgeel is ‘orpiment’ of arseen-sulfide en het groen is het zwaar giftige Schweinfurt groen, een mengsel van onder meer koper, arseen en azijnzuren. Strikt genomen is het werk niet ‘geschilderd’; Polke liet de compositie ontstaan door het doek te bewegen op zo’n manier dat de vloeibare en droge stoffen elkaar afstoten en gedeeltelijk absorberen. Het wonder van de kunst voltrekt zich door de materie zelf, door kwik, zwavel, zelfs de straling van een stuk uraniumerts, meegenomen uit Australië en door Polke bewaard in een loden doos. Deze schilderijen zijn zeer onstabiel en veranderen onder de invloed van licht en atmosfeer.

Polkes vrolijke experimenteerlust had evenwel een keiharde en kille kern. Het scharnierpunt van zijn oeuvre zijn de films, fotowerken en dia-installaties. Ze worden in Ludwig voor het eerst uitgebreid getoond. De politiek-geëngageerde en maatschappijkritische kant van Polkes werk komt hier het meest overtuigend tot uitdrukking. Polke heeft gedurende zijn hele leven met de camera gewerkt, maar in deze periode nam het filmen en fotograferen de overhand.

The Bowery is een magistrale serie van veertien zwart-witfoto’s, begonnen in 1973 tijdens een reis naar New York en eindigend in de Gaspelshof, de boerderij in Willich waar Polke woonde. De foto’s, snapshots van zwervers en straatscènes, hangen als een lang fries op een rij. Polke manipuleerde de negatieven, drukte opnamen over elkaar af, vouwde nog niet gedroogde foto’s dubbel zodat een Rohrschach-effect ontstond, verkreukelde ze, liet de ontwikkelstof onregelmatig en te lang doorwerken, zodat vervaagde, collage-achtige beelden ontstonden. Polke maakte geen edities, het is een unieke serie, reproduceerbaarheid interesseerde hem niet. De vuiligheid, de willekeur of ongeremdheid van de beelden, de toevalsfactoren in de totstandkoming ervan, komen overeen met het onderwerp van het verloren leven van de zwervers.

De film Auf der Suche nach Bohr-mann Brasilien und seine Folgen (1975-76) gaat, oppervlakkig bezien, over de deelname van Polke en zijn vriend Blinky Palermo aan de Biënnale van São Paulo in 1975. We zien de momenten die er niet toe doen: wachtend op technici voor de installatie van het werk, met vrienden lummelend bij de opening. De beelden en zooms zijn rusteloos, alles heel anekdotisch en impressionistisch, niet-chronologisch. Het onderliggende thema is de zoektocht naar Martin Bormann, de persoonlijke secretaris en vertrouweling van Hitler die naar Zuid-Amerika zou zijn ontsnapt en, in het heden, de martelingen door het Braziliaanse regime. De film gaat over de verwevenheid van het privé- en het openbare leven en van politiek en kunst, de deelname van de Biënnale van São Paulo is niet iets onschuldigs.

Polke zei dat hij nooit de juiste vorm of context had gevonden om zijn films te laten zien. Dit gebeurde pas vlak voor zijn dood, in de Hamburger Kunsthalle. Film- en kunstwereld waren altijd gescheiden geweest. Dit is nu niet meer zo, digitale technieken hebben zo’n beetje alles mogelijk gemaakt. In Museum Ludwig is de zaal met de foto’s en films van Polke veruit het belangwekkendst. Niet alleen omdat dit materiaal zelden in deze samenhang is vertoond, maar ook omdat zichtbaar wordt hoe essentieel de camera is voor het oeuvre van Polke. Dit maakt het werk van Polke opnieuw zeer actueel, ook voor de jongste generatie kunstenaars.

De Duitse kunstenaar Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) begon zijn loopbaan met een opleiding in de mozaïek- en glas-in-loodschilderkunst, bij de firma Derix in Düsseldorf (1959-1961).

Overal in het oeuvre is zijn fascinatie voor decoratieve patronen, voor transparantie, gelaagdheid en lichtwerking zichtbaar.

Een van zijn laatste werken is een ensemble van vijf glas-in-loodramen (2006-2009) voor de dom in Zürich, bestaande uit fonkelende, kleurige stukken agaat. Het raam, getiteld Der Mensensohn, bestaat uit raampanelen met daarop profielen van gezichten, in pikzwart monochroom Schwarzlot, een mengsel van koperoxide en fijngemalen glas.

Polke lanceerde begin jaren zestig met collega’s een vorm van pop-art die zij kapitalistisch realisme noemden als tegenhanger van het sociaal realisme uit het Oostblok. Hij combineerde nazisymbolen met geometrisch-abstracte kunst, of schilderde met de hand, minutieus en met eindeloos geduld, duizenden stippen op het doek, met het doel het schilderij eruit te laten zien als uitvergroot, gerasterd drukwerk.

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