Lot 114
  • 114

Sigmar Polke

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Sigmar Polke
  • Druckfehler
  • signed and dated 1999 on the reverse
  • interference and acrylic on canvas
  • 100.4 by 79.8cm.; 39 1/2 by 31 3/8 in.


Galerie Erhard Klein, Bonn
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1999)
Private Collection, Germany


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although it fails to fully convey the iridescent quality of the interference paint in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Extremely close inspection reveals two tiny unobtrusive pinhead sized irregularities towards the upper left corner where the underlying layer of paint is visible, which are original to the work's execution. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"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

Executed in 1999, the present work embodies the entrancingly rendered abstraction and exploratory engagement with materials that epitomise Sigmar’s Polke’s superlative opus. Druckfehler is an original expression of the artist’s practice that is simultaneously elusive and highly influential, continually drawing attention from audiences, major artists and collectors alike. The artist’s fascination with the half-tone dot in newspaper print, which he first explored in his iconic Raster Bilder of the 1960s, evokes allusions to mechanical reproduction as foregrounded in the work of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein – two significant early influences on Polke. Yet unlike the glossy, machinelike perfection of Lichtenstein’s uniform, tightly composed pictures, Polke compromises the images he reproduces through manipulating scale and medium, distorting conventional pictorial structures and eroding the resulting image into a ghostly blur. From an early stage in his career, Polke was thinking about pushing this pictorial language further beyond representation. The dots in the work in question have been vibrated and blurred to re-emerge out of the rich sea backdrop of dispersion as an entirely new painterly collection of dots. In his semi-liberation of the Raster dots, Polke has created a dynamic almost organic painting whose lack of overall graphic cohesion allows for a myriad of ways of being understood and appreciated.

The white paint used by Polke fluctuates in radiance depending on the luminosity of its surroundings; this shifting quality is emphatically underscored by the bright but matte blue backdrop of Polke’s Druckfehler, like clouds drifting across a motionless sky. Further informed by his decade-long experimentation with photography and film, the imposition of semi-transparent figurative elements in a storyboard-like presentation, alongside abstract washes of paint, gives the work an almost cinematic experience. Polke’s experiments with the chemical processes of photography have indeed found their way into his paintings, which seems to blend multiple projections of abstract and figurative elements into a new image. This salient tension between abstraction and figuration is masterfully resolved in Polke’s careful juxtaposition of imagery, materials and methods of application. Undermining the traditional hierarchy of these categories, the artist’s chance-based application of lush and abstract layers of paint, replicates the state of flux that is suggested in the image. Its title, Druckfehler, meaning ‘misprint’ is representative of this fluidity and also evokes the off-key printer errors of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen masterworks. This painting reveals the understanding of the painter as an alchemist involved with explorations of scientific reaction to materials, signalling his fascination with alchemy as a system of understanding nature without recourse to positivistic science. Polke creates a characteristically pseudoscientist composition, with various blueish hues punctuated with cascades of ivory and purple that burst incandescently from the surface, like sporadic beacons of glowing light.     

Majestic yet depthless cool blue layers provide a backdrop arena to panoply of dancing white, which glides gracefully across the canvas like a gymnast’s ribbon. The lattice-like ordered Raster images alongside the lyrical gesture of the brush creates a magnificent display of playfulness and the constant shifting of the relationships of light and perspective fashions a sense of serenity within the freedom of the work. Indeed this continual flux throughout Polke’s oeuvre has been aptly described by John Caldwell: “What Polke has done to produce paintings that seem to look back at us by changing as we look at them, and thus allow them to have the very aura of a work of art” (John Caldwell in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke, 1990, p. 13). Furthermore, Polke’s expressive yet precise layering of paint juxtaposed with the fleeting dots and off-white paint creates an ethereal quality hinting at the potential disappearance of the image. Through the multiple layering of grids of spots, contours are reduced to stark silhouettes while sublet variances in tone and hue are reduced to a matrix of offsetting shimmering black and white dots.

In its fusion of sources, painterly approaches and material support, Druckfehler offers an utterly unique insight into the elusive but crucially important practice of one the Germany’s most influential twentieth-century artists. The present work vitally illustrates how the indefinable Polke privileged ambiguity over clarity, epitomizing his wild disregard for the conventions of painting; a character trait reflected his own reticence bringing a freshness and originality that defiantly flouts all attempts at categorisation.  Alex Farquharson has described the era-defining nature of Polke’s painterly explorations: “Techniques such as these represented a radical affront to the unity of painting as understood by the Modernist tradition. Polke’s works were everything painting wasn’t supposed to be: vulgar, mocking, parodic, decorative, heterotopic, discontinuous, self-reflexive and self-critical… by the 1980s Polke was the consummate and emblematic postmodern painter” (Alex Farquharson, ‘Sigmar Polke’, Frieze Magazine, Issue 81, March 2004, online).


“I like the way that the dots in a magnified picture swim and move about. The way that motifs change from recognisable to unrecognisable, the undecided, ambiguous nature of the situation, the way it remains open… Lots of vibrating, resonating, blurring, re-emerging, thoughts of radio signals, radio pictures and television come to mind.” – Sigmar Polke, 1966