Private Collection, London
James Cohan Gallery, New York (acquired directly from the above in 2000)
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Berlin, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Sigmar Polke: Die drei Lügen der Malerei, 1997-98, p. 231, illustrated in colour
By the 1990s, Polke’s work had gained a new vitality and pictorial dynamism akin to the radical brilliance of his 1960s paintings. 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 and 1990s. Sean Rainbird comments on the changes which occurred in Polke’s painting during the mature period of his career: “Polke appears now to delegate ever more processes in his painting, while remaining in ultimate control. His motifs are usually found within the history of art and illustration… They are often readable only as fragments depicting human agency, against the increasingly unstructured grounds on which he has limited the autograph mark by allowing the liquids he applies to find their own final shape”(Sean Rainbird, ‘Seams and Appearances: learning to paint with Sigmar Polke’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Liverpool, Tate Gallery, Sigmar Polke, Join the Dots, 1995, p. 22).
Constant throughout the variations in Polke's artistic methodology was a dedicated interest in the formal and theoretical elements that differentiate abstraction from figuration. While initially this fascination was made manifest in the artist abstracting figurative cultural images, in the late 1980s and early 1990s Polke reversed his approach, suggesting the figurative in the abstract through a sustained inquiry into the reactive possibilities of diverse materials and the possibilities of colour to create a mirage on the surfaces of his canvases. Rokoko displays this thrilling tension between abstraction and figuration, with the elegantly inscribed figures contrasting and merging with the opalescent washes of colour that adorn the canvas surface. The contrast between the precise draftsmanship of the figures and the arcs of iridescent colours from which they emerge results in a striking yet harmonious visual dichotomy, as the viewer perceives glimpses of detail amidst areas of complex tonal hues. In its remarkable amalgamation of image, colour and non-objective and corporeal form, Rokoko reveals the astonishing assurance of the artist’s mature technique, and can be considered as a work of profound importance within Polke’s oeuvre of this period.
Polke produced work of astonishing diversity and versatility throughout his career, forging a painterly language that was utterly unique in its embrace of innovative artistic forms and ideas. Polke’s works teasingly defy categorisation, eluding association with conventional art historical movements in favour of an extraordinarily eclectic stylistic language. The artist transcends the boundaries of traditional painting, moving into fascinatingly unpredictable dominions of creative experimentation, whilst imbuing his works with a sense of subtle satire and humour. Polke challenges us to unravel the riddles he presents on canvas, yet does so in a way that ultimately leaves interpretation a matter of personal opinion. Peter Schjeldahl comments on the enigmatic nature of Polke’s oeuvre: “To learn more and more about him, it has sometimes seemed to me, is to know less and less. His art is like Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland rabbit hole, entrance to a realm of spiralling perplexities…” (Peter Schjeldhal, ‘The Daemon and Sigmar Polke’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke, 1990-1991, p. 17). This astounding range of multiple meanings ensures that Polke’s painting remains one of the most endlessly fascinating bodies of work produced by any artist active during the last few decades.
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