signed, titled and dated 64 on the reverse
dispersion and pencil on canvas
Galerie René Block, Berlin
Acquired directly from the above by the father of the present owner circa 1970
Thence by descent to the present owner
“I like the way the dots in a magnified picture swim about and move about. The way that motifs change from recognisable to unrecognisable - the undecided, ambiguous nature of the situation, the way it remains open.” (Sigmar Polke quoted in Dieter Hülsmanns, ‘Kultur des Rasters. Aussteller Gespräch mit dem Maler Sigmar Polke’, in: Rheinische Post, 10 May 1966)
Sigmar Polke’s mercurial oeuvre conjures with and seeks to deconstruct the illusions and paradoxes of painting, and nowhere is this better expressed than in his iconic black and white Rasterbild(dot paintings) from the early 1960s. Embodying the artist’s Post War, Modernist view of the world as an unpredictable place full of intrigue and permeated with irony, Herr Kluncker is one of Polke’s earliest and most important works. Painted in the style of ‘Capitalist Realism’ – a pseudo art-movement he conceived with Gerhard Richer and Konrad Lueg whilst at the Düsseldorf academy - like much early Pop art, Polke’s Raster paintings took their source imagery from newspapers and commercial advertising. Intended as a tongue in cheek commentary upon the contradictory styles of Pop Art and German Socialist Realism, Polke sought to provide a witty and powerful response to the media-led Americanisation of German culture.
Immediately legible and arrestingly powerful, Herr Kluncker is visually acerbic and satirical. Part Pop, part irony and partly questioning the nature of seeing and reproduction, the present work takes as its subject a banal appropriated newspaper image of Germany’s then trade union minister, Heinz Kluncker. Here Polke knowingly acknowledges and confidently extends the historical relevance and techniques of Lichtenstein’s Pop code to investigate the relevance and power – if any - of contemporary painting. Whereas the all-over graphic punch and slick veneer of Lichtenstein’s work sought to remove all traces of the artist’s hand from the creative process, Polke exploits the formal structure of the image as a vehicle through which to subtly reassert his painterly dominance. Polke magnifies the mechanically reproduced Benday pattern found in newspaper printing to the point of abstraction, breaking down the aesthetic and physical structures of the source image to the point of collapse. By actively disrupting the size and density of the Raster with an experimental, hand-painted flair, Polke subtly corrodes the cohesiveness and integrity of the image and thus subverts the dominance of the composition and subject. Consequently, and as he has continued to do in his later paintings, Polke establishes a multi layered ambiguity here that poses important questions about the nature of image-making, of perception and of reality.
Within the composition’s seemingly ordered structure, Polke engenders a surface tension and optical energy that is as enigmatic and elusive as the artist himself. Polke dabbles with the basic substances and conventions of creativity to fulfil the role of aesthetic alchemist, and like raindrops snaking their course down a window pane, the diaphanous composition seems to flow and ebb down the canvas towards the densely congealed lower right corner. There is a sense of wry irony and winking inappropriateness also that arises from the contradictory delicacy of the Raster and the solidity of the subject they convey. As Polke knowingly subordinates the statuesque figure of one of Germany’s most powerful figureheads within this semi-abstract matrix of perplexing simplicity, he underlines the striking opposition between the illusory depth of the composition and the absolute flatness of the technique.
In the same way that Richter at this time was exploring means of imposing uncertainty and ambiguity into his photo-paintings through blurring, Polke’s manipulation of his trademark Raster dots advances the essentially abstract nature of all imagery and the multi-layered nature of reality. Like his American contemporaries, Polke’s work was born in response to the media driven consumerism of contemporary culture. Because of this, it has often been characterised as European Pop art for its depiction of everyday subject matter - like bread, sausages and potatoes – and for its use of imagery derived from the mass media. However, as Polke and his fellow Capitalist Realist artists were quick to point out: “Pop art is not an American invention, and we do not regard it as an import – though the concepts and terms were mostly coined in America and caught on there more rapidly than here in Germany. This art is pursuing its own organic and autonomous growth in this country; the analogy with American Pop art stems from those well-defined psychological, cultural and economic factors that are the same here as they are in America.” (Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg, Letter to a Newsreel Company, 29 April 1963).
What appealed to Polke about Pop art was that it “recognises the modern mass media as a genuine cultural phenomena and it turns its attributes, formulations and content, through artifice, into art….Pop art has rendered conventional panting – with all its sterility, its isolation, its artificiality, its taboos, its rules – entirely obsolete, and has rapidly achieved international currency and recognition by creating a new view of the world.”(ibid.) However, unlike Warhol and Lichtenstein, Polke was raised on the Socialist Realism of East Germany, and much of the media imagery of the West – including Pop art - had an aura that seemed fundamentally alien and divorced from reality.
Herr Kluncker establishes the provocative wit, illusory power and provocative ambiguity of Polke's subsequent oeuvre. Like American Pop, its overt artificiality not only questions the banality and unreality of mass media but addresses the shallow artifice and abstract nature inherent to reproduction. More than his American Pop contemporaries, Polke’s work from these years affords the most complete break with the prevailing mode of abstract expression and established him as an artist for whom painterly convention existed to be challenged.
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