Lot 24
  • 24


500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Sigmar Polke
  • Untitled
  • artificial resin on polyester fibre, in artist’s wooden frame
  • 149.9 by 130.3 cm. 59 by 51 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 1989.


Michael Werner Gallery, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007


New York, Michael Werner Gallery, Polke – Bernstein – Amber, November 2006 - January 2007, pp. 61 and 91, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although they are brighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. The work is securely housed in an artist's frame, close inspection of which reveals a few minor scuffs towards the centre of the right vertical edge, and a spot of media accretion to the centre of the side of the right vertical edge. There are surface irregularities and inconsistencies that are in keeping with the artist's working process and choice of materials. Very close inspection reveals two spots of craquelure to the surface of the composition, one to the lower edge 15 cm from the lower right corner, and another to the centre of the left vertical edge, which has recently been consolidated by Michael Trier in Cologne. There is no evidence of retouching 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 1989, Sigmar Polke’s seductive painting Untitled is replete with the historical awareness that defines the artist’s astonishing opus. Rendered in artificial resin on polyester fibre, the work revisits a subject explored by the artist some three years earlier in a series of eight paintings produced for the West German pavilion of the 1986 Venice Biennale. Collectively titled Duererschleifen, or ‘Dürer's Loops’, the Biennale paintings reference the abstract decorative shapes found within Albrecht Dürer's famed print The Great Triumphal Chariot of Maximillian I (1522). The appeal of the German Master’s print is clear: diverging from strict personification, Dürer's mystical looped aesthetic appears strikingly contemporary. Refusing iconographic or symbolic interpretation, the loops frustrate textual reference and embody expressionistic invocations of the spirit-matter or otherworldliness inherent to ideals made corporeal. The works from the Biennale, and indeed the subsequent present painting, find inspiration in the beautiful anachronism of Dürer's genius, which discovered the abstract expressionist line centuries earlier. The celebrated series won Polke the prestigious Leone d’Oro for Lifetime Achievement in 1986, and have been displayed at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich since 1992.   A testament to the sumptuous beauty of Polke's fascinating blend of unconventional materials upon the canvas, Untitled offers subtle layers of rich amber tones, infused with luminescent and deep umber hues. Recalling at once aged parchment, photographs of deep space nebulas, and the caves and landscape drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, Polke’s Untitled successfully transmutes base materials into potent atmosphere. The title of Polke's 1986 West German pavilion exhibition was Athanor, the term for an alchemical kiln. The artist was renowned for his fascination with alchemy as a system of understanding nature without recourse to positivistic science, and Untitled compellingly conveys a sense of deep mysticism. Composed of unconventional materials, the work becomes an arena within which ancient sediments and emblematic media confound contemporary expectations regarding the primacy of oil paint in the neo-expressionist moment. The present work hence establishes Polke as existing independently from the strictures of history and convention, even as his fecund engagements with these canons were pursued with rigour and passion.  

Polke’s sheer technical and aesthetic innovation is supremely represented by Untitled, where the resin on polyester fibre coalesces to form an immense abstract canvas of phenomenal beauty and enduring impact. The present work is archetypal of Polke’s best invention whereby an emphasis on qualities of light and transparency permeate his work, and the painting appears informed in this way by an apprenticeship the artist undertook in a stained-glass factory in Dusseldorf. A powerful sense of this training is provided here by the contrasts of heavily saturated areas imbued with luscious pigment, against the glassy translucence of its resin-coated support. Polke’s painting is fundamentally revolutionary and anti-conventional. As made succinctly manifest by the present work, in the words of Tate curator Alex Farquharson, "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).