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Sigmar Polke

Music of Unclear Origin

31.3. – 20.5.2001

Sigmar Polke: Music of Unclear Origin

31 March - 20 May 2001


Born in 1941 in Oels, Silesia (now Olesnica, Poland), Sigmar Polke emigrated to West Germany in 1953 and has become one of the country’s foremost painters.


Music of Unclear Origin is the title given to a group of paintings that Polke made in 1996, which have been described as ‘cosmic tasters’ of his entire artistic output. The complete series of forty gouaches will be on display in this exhibition.


Polke studied in Düsseldorf and came to prominence during the 1960’s and 1970’s, producing witty works similar in style to the Pop Art being made in Britain and America at the same time. He has borrowed freely from numerous and diverse sources, including advertising and popular culture and which combines a range of different styles and subject matter.


Since the 1960s. Polke has made pictures that mimic the use of Benday dots (The system of coloured dots used in photomechanical reproduction for newspapers, comics and advertising). Other artists such as the American Roy Lichtenstein have famously appropriated this technique, but whereas Lichtenstein’s paintings have a simple clarity, Polke’s imagery is layered and complex. His combination of painted dots (of varying size), precise brush drawing, washes and splashed paint, gives work such as Music of Unclear Origin its subversive and confusing appearance.


In their complex symbolism, these paintings often refer to historical events and in particular to Germany’s recent past. Music of Unclear Origin (and Polke’s painting as a whole) freely combines seemingly unconnected imagesin a manner which is rich in irony and humour, but which conceals their meaning. This ambiguity is accentuated by the titles, which lead ‘a wild life of their own’. You can prevent milk boiling over by putting a velvet insole in your shoe is typically nonsensical and apparently independent of the work to which it refers.


During the 1970s Polke became preoccupied with photography, but returned to painting in the 1980s, experimenting with a wide range of materials. The forty works in Music of Unclear Origin are all gouaches (opaque watercolour paint), but clearly display the technical virtuosity which is typical of all Polke’s painting, a body of work that has intrigued, puzzled and delighted viewers since the 1960s. 

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