Lot 20
  • 20

Sigmar Polke

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
848,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sigmar Polke
  • Untitled (Baum 9)
  • signed on the reverse, signed and dated 2002 on the stretcher
  • acrylic and dispersion on fabric


Michael Werner, New York/Cologne

Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen

Private Collection, Sweden

Acquired from the above by the present owner


London, Tate Modern, Sigmar Polke: History of Everything. Paintings and Drawings 1983-2003, October 2003 - January 2004

Catalogue Note

Spontaneity, uncertainty, and flux – these are the central facets of Sigmar Polke’s celebrated style; direct reflections of his unique take on the impenetrable mysteries of reality, and palpable influences upon the creation of the present work. Untitled (Baum 9) is an outstanding painting from an important period of his career that appears to hover between printed order and painted chaos in deliberate and unabashed ambiguity. The central motif is idiosyncratically enigmatic, at first appearing as the titularly heralded tree, and identifying this work with a theme that had populated Polke’s paintings since the 1960s. However, the longer one observes the raster-dot pattern, the more abstract it becomes: the tree’s arboreal form falls away and, like a Rorschach test, is replaced by alternative shapes and figurative referents – even recalling the side-profile of a man’s head. Polke had turned to raster-dots for his portraiture throughout his career and the physiognomic bulges and nooks of the central form in this painting are entirely redolent of that strand of his oeuvre. In essence, this work recalls the judgement made by the former director of the Tate Britain, Alex Farquarshon: “Polke’s works were everything painting wasn’t supposed to be: vulgar, mocking, parodic, decorative, heterotopic, discontinuous, self-reflexive, and self-critical… Polke was the consummate and emblematic Post-modern painter” (Alex Farquharson, ‘Sigmar Polke’, Frieze Magazine, No. 81, March 2004, online).

Trees abound in Polke’s facture. He included trees in two panels from his fourteen-part photolithograph series Höhere Wesen Befehlen (Higher Beings Ordain), created between 1967 and 1968, which ridiculed the lofty ideals of the contemporaneous avant-garde. Then, in 1969, Polke created the Palm Tree works, exemplified by Palmen, which is held in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Palme auf Autostoff, which was sold at Sotheby’s as part of the prestigious Duerckheim collection in 2011, and is notable for its use of a found fabric ground comparable to that in the present work. Dietmar Elgar has written on the significance of this seminal series, explaining how they “play off the vacation to tropical climes as an antidote to the tedium of everyday life. Polke subjects these hyped-up images to a kind of ontological dissection that reveals their origins to be, in a sense, less cultural than industrial” (Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago and London 2009, p. 82). Later, trees appeared in Polke’s work again, in the Baumhaus Treehouse) series of the mid-1970s that presaged his famous Hochsitz (Watchtower) works, and then again throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, during which time he allowed all manner of imagery to flood his practice through the medium of raster dot reproduction. Polke even used tree branches as stencils for his 2000s spray paint works – placing them on his grounds and spraying their silhouettes. In adhering to this subject matter, Polke confronted a national tradition. Indeed, the tree motif has captivated a generation of German artists – from Georg Baselitz, for whom the oak was a symbol of historic Germanic strength, to Joseph Beuys’ urban-renewal art project 7000 Oak Trees (1982), through to Martin Kippenberger’s seditious send up of this Teutonic emblem in Now I Am Going Into the Big Birch Wood, My Pills Will Soon Start Doing Me Good (1990).

In reconfiguring that arboreal motif which had appeared in some of his earliest works, and even had further significance within the wider context of German art, this work should be considered a consummate success according to Polke’s own criteria: “I like it when my art includes references to the past, to my roots. I cannot forget what my precursors have done. Even if the results look new, as far as I am concerned, as an artist I’m following an academic path. I like tracking down certain pictures, techniques and procedures. It is a way of understanding what is largely determined by tradition” (Sigmar Polke cited in: Martin Gayford, ‘Weird Intelligence’, Modern Painters 16, No. 4, 2003, p. 78). Untitled (Baum 9) should also be lauded as a strong example of the works that Polke had been making from the 1980s onwards using industrially produced fabric as a ground. In their production, he experimented with juxtapositions of form and surface texture, using pools and patterns of dispersion and acrylic, articulated over manufactured material in a way that deliberately disrupts and subverts their geometry and rationality. In the present work, this sense is heightened through the jarring grid that is visible in the field of raster dots that articulate the tree. This pictorial dissonance and subversion is typical of Polke. We are thus reminded of the curator John Caldwell’s assertion that: “What Polke has done is 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 cited in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sigmar Polke, 1990, p. 13).