Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1996)
Acquired from the above by the previous owner
Set against the backdrop of a tight mesh lattice on an industrially produced fabric, bright orange squares summon the architectural profile of a Manhattan skyscraper, that we recognise to be the iconic Empire State Building. Light yellow daubs and accents in the centre denote the building’s bright lights, while expressive strokes of white and blue sweep across the bottom right of the composition like clouds across a blustery sky and the glaring headlights from an onward rush of traffic. The ecstatic palette and visceral mark-making deliberately disrupts and subverts the geometric rationality of the printed fabric and oozes with frenzied downtown spirit. Both in style and subject this work draws close parallels to Polke’s aforementioned Stadtbilder from 1968 and his days as a Capitalist Realist painter. A student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the early 1960s, Polke found a close compatriot in Gerhard Richter. They, along with fellow-student and dealer-to-be Konrad Lueg, launched a bid for Capitalist Realism. Interestingly, during this period Gerhard Richter also created a series of townscapes. However, showing an aerial view of post-war European metropolises, his Stadtbilder from the late 1960s record slabs of new-build high-rises and provide a sombre sense of detachment. By contrast, Polke’s striking Doppelbild (Skyscraper) enlists the sense of a lively moonlit night-scene, taking us right into the heart of the American dream. His pictorial language – marks brushed, whipped and daubed with formidable efficiency and accuracy – conjures an immediately recognisable atmosphere, urgent with the smear, lick, and scratch of paint. By revisiting this subject in the 1980s Polke self-reflectively looks back and re-mixes his earlier work; an impetus underlined by his use of commercially available printed fabric owing to his first use of this during the 1960s. This retroactive approach and re-sampling of recognisable Polkian symbols chimes with the contemporaneous direction of art production during the 1980s, in which appropriation and institutional critique dominated.
The elusive Polke produced work of astonishing diversity and versatility throughout his career and forged a painterly vocabulary that was utterly unique in its embrace of innovative artistic forms and ideas. His works teasingly defy categorisation, eluding association with conventional art historical movements in favour of an eclectic stylistic language. A time of extraordinary creative ferment, the 1980s saw Polke receive serious international critical consideration: just two years after the creation of Doppelbild (Skyscraper), the artist showed at documenta and in 1986 he represented Germany at the Venice Biennale. Having given up painting for most of the 1970s in favour of experimenting with other media such as photography and film, Polke returned to it with renewed energy in the 1980s. By this time, his work had gained a new vitality and pictorial dynamism akin to the radical brilliance of his paintings of the 1960s.
The artist’s influential practice has continually drawn attention from major artists and collectors alike and his seminal importance in contemporary art history was once again confirmed with the major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern in London, and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne during 2014-2015. Displaying a spellbinding tension between abstraction and figuration Doppelbild (Skyscraper) stands as a true testament to the artist’s extraordinary creative innovations of the 1980s and epitomises that judgement made of Polke by the director of Tate Britain, Alex Farquharson: “Polke’s works were everything painting wasn’t supposed to be: vulgar, mocking, parodic, decorative, heterotopic, discontinuous, self-reflexive and self-critical… By the 1980s, Polke was the consummate and emblematic Post-modern painter” (Alex Farquharson, ‘Sigmar Polke’, Frieze Magazine, No. 81, March 2004, online). Staging a return to the subject and medium that propelled Polke to early critical acclaim, Doppelbild (Skyscraper) signals the beginning of a tremendously productive and applauded decade for the artist.
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