Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Sigmar Polke
1941 - 2010
signed and dated 86 D on the reverse
acrylic, lacquer and silver spray paint on canvas
198 by 190cm.; 78 by 74⅞in.
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Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
Sale: Christie's, New York, Contemporary Art, 18 November 1997, Lot 160
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Exhibition Catalogue, Milwauke, Art Museum; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Warhol, Beuys, Polke, 1987, p. 124, no. 22, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Compellingly seductive and replete with the historical awareness that defines Polke's astonishing opus, Audatia revisits a subject explored by Polke in a series of eight works produced for the West German pavilion of the 1986 Venice Biennale. Collectively titled Duererschleifen, or "Dürer's Loops", these pieces reference abstract decorative shapes within Albrecht Dürer's famed print The Great Triumphal Chariot of Maximillian I (1522). The print depicts Emperor Maximilian I in a triumphal procession accompanied by eight virtues: Audatia, Acrimonia, Alacritas, Experientia, Providentia, Ratio, Velocitas and Virilitas. Each virtue is personified and represented in curiously abstract form by a squigle shape floating in the air, which become Polke's subjects. Their appeal is clear: diverging from strict personification, Dürer's mystical loop thematic appears strikingly contemporary. Refusing iconographic or symbolic interpretation, the loops frustrate textual reference and embody expressionistic invocations of the spirit-matter or otherworldliness inherent to ideals made corporeal. Audatia and its companions find inspiration in the beautiful anachronism of Dürer's genius, which discovered the abstract expressionist line centuries early. Since 1992, the eight Deurerschleifen exhibited at the Venice Biennale have been displayed at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. The present Audatia was created shortly after the Biennale, in December 1986, and features a larger, centered loop upon a more highly worked background than its earlier counterpart.


A testament to the sheer gorgeousness of Polke's fascinating blends of unconventional materials upon the canvas, Audatia offers subtle layers of rich earth tones, blues and silvers out of whose depth Dürer's symbol emerges. Recalling at once aged parchment, photographs of deep space nebulas or the caves and landscapes of Leonardo, Polke successfully transmutes base materials into a potent atmosphere. The title of Polke's West German pavilion exhibition was Athanor, the term for an alchemical kiln. Renowned for his fascination with alchemy as a system of understanding nature without recourse to positivistic science, the inclusion of the Duererschleifen highlights the enchantment that underlies the rationality of the Renaissance Man. Mixing graphite dust, lacquer, silver and even insect wings to produce the series, each canvas becomes an arena within which ancient sediments and unconventional materials confound contemporary expectations regarding the primacy of oil paint in the neo-expressionist moment. The canvases establish Polke as existing independently from the strictures of history and convention, even as his fecund engagements with these canons were pursued with rigour and passion.


Deeply committed to German visual culture as a subject, Audatia embodies Polke's career-defining concern to grapple with images defining the German consciousness. In articulating a pioneeringly political and incisive brand of Pop in the 1960s, Polke included beer, sausages and potatoes into his paintings to wholeheartedly examine contemporary German life. The present work excavates more deeply, piercing the surface of Pop imagery to face Dürer's potent legacy. Joseph Beuys too confronted his predecessor with the landmark work Dürer, I will guide Baader-Meinhof through the Documenta V (1972), itself created in response to action artist Thomas Pieter who dressed up as and impersonated Dürer throughout Documenta in 1972. In a divided Germany, the unificatory potential of a common artistic heritage offered a neutral lens through which to discuss German identity and freed artists from the confines of capitalist/communist binaries. Dürer was an additionally apt specter for the Biennale, given his own visits to Venice and attempts to synthesise the Northern and Italian Renaissance styles.


Athanor was a watershed moment in Polke's career, universally recognised by critics as the highlight of the Biennale and earning him the illustrious Gold Lion award of 1986. Within the display, Polke included chunks of crystal, meteorite and quicksilver among the paintings, invoking originary forces and primordial eras as central influences upon the Schleifen series. Bice Curiger has evoked this thematic within the series thus: "The Schleifen are the very quintessence of the tension, grace, and musicality that can flow out of the movement of a hand (Durer's hand). Polke's hand traces the movement of these lines, which celebrate themselves in the name of certain virtues, in enlarged versions painted on those Polke backgrounds that seem to gaze into outer space. It is like writing before writing, like writing without the coercion of transport, without a solid background, writing in unified harmony with the infinite flow of time, writing perhaps in a background (graphite) that is the ashes of the stars' out of which, recent findings of physics tell us, we have been formed" (Bice Curiger in: Exhibition Catalogue, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Sigmar Polke, 1992, p. 60).

Contemporary Art Evening Auction