Lot 225
  • 225

Sigmar Polke

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sigmar Polke
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 2004
  • interference, acrylic and neon paint on paper
  • 200 by 150cm.; 78 3/4 by 59in.


Acquired from the artist by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly brighter in the original. The catalogue illustration also fails to fully convey the iridescent nature of the interference paint visible in the original. Condition: Unexamined out of its frame, this work is in very good condition. The sheet undulates very slightly due to the weight of the pigment. All surface irregularities are original.
"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

Embracing completely novel materials and techniques to quintessentially resuscitate and redefine the painterly medium, the German artist Sigmar Polke has created one of the most significant, influential, and above all heterogeneous corpus of works in the post-war art landscape. Through his highly inventive and experimental approach towards colour and material, Polke’s fascinating body of abstract paintings postulate a freedom of form that is achieved through a reciprocal tension of chance and control. In the present work, shadowy black-and-white matrixes of the artist’s signature raster-dots emerge from the background of the painting, evoking the very genesis of Polke’s practice from the early 1960s in which the artist already began to experiment with different types of materials. Celestial circular shapes of purple tones are juxtaposed with a veritable deluge of vividly dripping paint, immersing the work into a mesmerising field of colour in which changing chromatic effects result in a compounding sense of dramatic movement and spatial exploration. In an enthralling coexistence of alchemical mysticism and modern day research, the artist powerfully demonstrates the pictorial possibilities of his technique to create works of intense colour codes and gestural abstraction.

Polke’s interest in the alchemical qualities of various chemicals that he used and integrated into his works was nurtured during his many travels to countries such as India, Afghanistan, or Australia. These manifold cultural influences deeply influenced the artist’s unique understanding of the transformational force of colour and material, culminating into powerful works such as Untitled in which any traditional parameters of painterly convention are negated. As curator Mark Godfrey aptly observes: “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, ‘From Moderne Kunst to Entartete Kunst: Polke and Abstraction’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, (and travelling), Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, 2014, p. 134). On one of his trips to Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1980-81, whilst examining the geology of Ayers Rock in northern Australia, Polke re-evaluated the effect and meaning of colour and materials. Looking back on the trip he explained: "I started thinking about colour and its treatment... how, for example, Hinduism explains and uses colour or how Australians use colour... Seeing how colours are made, out of what kind of materials..." (Sigmar Polke quoted in: Ibid., p. 132).

In the 1970s, Polke’s unorthodox approach towards photography, which was marked by experimental practices in the darkroom, resulted in stupendous painterly photographic works that would strongly influence his output of the 1980s and have a lasting effect on his abstract works of the later decades, which includes the present work. The first cycle where Polke extensively employed unusual colour pigments dates back to 1982 when at documenta 7 he exhibited mysteriously dark works in shimmery violet tones titled Negativwerte ("Negative Value"). From then on, the artist would obsessively explore the compositional expressiveness of various pigments and even go so far as to use toxic materials such as Auripigment or Schweinfurter green. Fascinated with antique methods of colour production, Polke studied such elaborate techniques as the ones used to create the illuminated manuscript Gospel Book of Kells from the 8th century. The commissioner of the West German Pavilion at the 1986 Venice Biennale, Dierk Stemmler, described the progress of the artist’s work in the following terms: "Sigmar Polke is a transformer, and at the same time an investigator who explores for himself, through innumerable obstinate enquiries and experiments with historical and contemporary materials, the chemico-physical properties and reactions of dyes, lacquers, minerals, metals, and their combinations and mutations under the influx of radiation, light, heat, radioactivity…Incompatibilities crash into one another in enlarged extraneous-familiar spaces, functioning as intermediaries in visual dialogues with the intensity of original representations" (Dierk Stemmler quoted in: General Catalogue: XLII Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte la Biennale di Venezia, Venice 1986, p. 276). Polke’s spiritual, intellectual, and artistic journey into the mystical philosophy of alchemy reveals the artist’s unrelenting and studious curiosity towards the most unusual procedures to understand the origin of colours. By refusing to adhere to any artistic norms, Polke’s works are open-end experiments that create their autonomous cosmos to explore completely new modes of pictorial composition.