Loesungen I-IV is one of the most significant series of works painted by Polke towards the beginning of his career, brilliantly exhibiting the distinctive wit for which the artist was renowned. At first glance, the elegiac beauty of mathematical formulae appears to be celebrated through the orderly lines of numbers and symbols, yet closer inspection reveals that numeracy is in fact being subverted in favor of amusingly juvenile arithmetical mistakes. Loesungen I-IV thus deconstructs the concept of an underlying order and harmony inherent within the universe, defying rational thought and investigation. The four canvases complement one another magnificently, each focusing on a different form of sum and reasoning. Confronted by these serried ranks of numbers, the viewer is forced to analyze and evaluate the ‘sums’ in front of them, yet no logical pattern emerges, willfully contradicting the promise of the title: ‘Solutions’ appears to suggest a reassuringly concrete result. John Caldwell argues that within the Loesungen series “Polke wickedly satirised the pretensions of conceptual art.” (John Caldwell, ‘Sigmar Polke,’ in Ibid., p. 10) Conceptual Art had gained increasingly in importance since the mid-1960s, with artists such as Joseph Kosuth and Sol LeWitt producing work in which ideas and intellectual possibilities took precedence over visual painterly stimulation.
Certainly Polke appears to be subtly mocking the tenets of the movement in Loesungen I-IV, creating a series in which “different sets of rules govern art and life… Beneath the penetrating humor, Polke appeared to argue that painting was not a self-sufficient entity, but rather a discipline that needed illumination through other methods of enquiry.” (Sean Rainbird, ‘Seams and Appearances: learning to paint with Sigmar Polke,’ in Exh. Cat., Liverpool, Tate Gallery, Sigmar Polke, Join the Dots, 1995, p. 15) Loesungen I-IV can thus be regarded as an extremely important group, signifying Polke’s investigation into the nature and potential of painting itself.
The 1960s were of immense import for the development of Polke’s artistic language, as the young painter strove to give expression to his ground-breaking creative ideals during a time of social and artistic ferment within Germany. Born in Silesia, East Germany Polke crossed over to the West in 1953, a move which later enabled him to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf alongside fellow students Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg. The three artists founded their own movement, somewhat satirically entitled ‘Capitalist Realism,’ a pointed reaction against the state-sponsored art of the GDR, and showed together in 1963 in an exhibition entitled Life with Pop – A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism. Polke was also greatly inspired by the teachers at the Kunstakademie, in particular by the presence of the legendary Joseph Beuys, whose almost messianic belief that art could be instrumental in social and political change presumably exerted a lasting influence on Polke. Margit Rowell has argued that the Kunstakadamie “would produce a generation of artists of unequalled distinction. The artists at the academy were extremely well informed about developments on the international scene. They were also incredibly free to transgress academic precedents.” (Margit Rowell, ‘Sigmar Polke, Stratagems of Subversion,’ in Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke: Works on Paper 1963-1974, 1999, p. 9) Polke’s art flourished in an environment conducive to experimentation and creative investigation, enabling him to paint in a manner that was wholly revolutionary in its disavowal of conventional styles and techniques: Loesungen I-IV emerged from this period of pioneering creative exploration. In its celebration of form and witty rejection of traditional painting, Loesungen I-IV can be considered as one of the most important series of Polke’s entire oeuvre, brilliantly moving beyond the previously accepted confines of painterly technique to create an entirely new and endlessly astonishing artistic lexicon.
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