Lot 106
  • 106

Sigmar Polke

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sigmar Polke
  • Untitled
  • each: signed and dated 85
  • each: acrylic on paper
  • each: 99 by 69cm.; 39 by 27 1/8 in.


Galerie Erhard Klein, Bad Münstereifel
Maria Osthoff, Rüßwihl
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1987


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the light blue tends more towards turquoise and is much more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Each sheet is attached verso to its mount in several places and undulates throughout due to the weight of the pigment. Close inspection reveals some stable and unobtrusive drying cracks in the thicker areas of black pigment. Further very close inspection reveals minor bumping to the lower corner tips of the right panel, and a tiny tear to the right-facing edge of the right panel, towards the lower right corner.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Sigmar Polke: The Great Alchemist

“Polke pushed his materials to the point where reason falters and where things begin to find their form not through the artist’s foresight or deliberate hand but through such non-rational conditions as gravity, accident, and the associative power of the unconscious”

Mark Godfrey in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, (and travelling), Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, 2014, p. 66

 “Are you the great alchemist?,” a journalist once asked Sigmar Polke at an award ceremony in Germany (Heidrun Wirth, ‘Bilder können tanzen und singen’, Kölnische Rundschau, 22 June 2007). Although the artist ducked the question by throwing a handful of polystyrene chips over his shoulder in response (pointing out the ridiculousness of this proposition and simultaneously showing his appreciation through his equally absurd reaction), there is a serious undertone to the question that has driven some of Polke’s most inventive works. Undoubtedly one of the most radically experimental artists of the Twentieth Century, Sigmar Polke’s illustrious practice, that spans over four decades of artistic production and includes a dazzling variety of mediums such as painting, drawing, photography, video and performance, has left an unmistakable mark on contemporary art-history. More than any artist of our time, Polke has embraced the endless potential of his materials and made them work in ways that were previously unheard of.

Even in his early work from the 1960s Polke had already been interested in unorthodox materials  such as printed fabrics, both for their material and pictorial qualities, but it was only after his decade-long break from painting in the 1970s that he fully embraced a new approach to the application of materials in his work that established an entirely new mode of pictorial possibilities. Rather than determining the application of the paint, Polke started to use chance as a key element in the composition of his works, letting the materials’ natural motion dictate the outcome of the work: “Polke allowed materials to determine the process rather than the other way around, a strategy that can be seen as a means of removing subjectivity or the authorial power of the artist from the act of painting” (Mark Godfrey in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, (and travelling), Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, 2014, p. 134).

Pushing a decidedly post-modern approach to painting to its absolute extremes, Polke went beyond the simple introduction of chance elements in painting which contemporaries like Gerhard Richter had also explored. By letting the paint and pigments themselves flow freely through his works, creating mesmerising patterns with materials and gravity as compositional tools, Polke developed a method of painting that effectively removed the artist’s subjectivity from his work. Executed in 1985, the present two works were made at the height of Polke’s exploratory spirit and are outstanding examples of the artist’s captivating works on paper from this decade. With sumptuous washes of paint and intricate patterns of drips set against a dramatic black background, they perfectly embody the artist’s dialogue between control and chance, but also demonstrate the pictorial power of this inventive strategy: “Polke literally and metaphorically dissects and dissolves images… all the while raising philosophical questions deeply concerned with not only the way images look and are made but also the possible and probable slippages, uncertainties, and misperceptions that can occur when we apprehend them” (Exhibition Catalogue, Dallas Museum of Art, Sigmar Polke, History of Everything, Paintings and Drawings 1998-2002, 2003, pp. 12-13).

As a powerful example of Sigmar Polke’s mystifying material and pictorial strategies, Untitled embodies some of the artist’s greatest accomplishments. His innovative approach and relentless experimentation with material and image have made him one of the most influential artists of the last century  - indeed earning him the reputation as the Great Alchemist of contemporary art.