Ringing in the year 2022, Berlin Kick presents a selection of photographic works by Sigmar Polke in his Kaiserdamm gallery in Berlin in collaboration with Sies + Höke Gallery, Düsseldorf on what would have been the artist’s eightieth birthday on February 13, 2021. Pieces from several groups of works represent the years from the 1960s to the 1990s.
As Swiss curator, author and longtime Polke companion Bice Curiger has said, photography played a vital role in the development of Polke’s work. Crossing boundaries, transformation and the continuous search for new practices, as we can see in the process of breaking the rules of image capture and darkroom work, fundamentally define Polke’s work.
Sigmar Polke already used photography as a form of independent expression in his complex work. He was comfortable with the medium from an early age and used it for visual note taking during his studies. His first cameras were a Rolleiflex and then a Leica, which reflected the different types of images he produced, ranging from static scenes to dynamic interactions.
In the second half of the 1960s, photographic images emerge from his daily surroundings in Düsseldorf – in his house as well as in his studio – which have nothing to do with the traditional genre of photography or art in general. The artist looked at everyday objects – dishes, tools, toys, potted plants – as if seeing them, through the eye of the camera, for the first time.
The camera records ephemeral everyday sculptures, performative scenes, actions and encounters. It shows the artist, his family, friends such as Blinky Palermo and others. In a first edition for the Galerie René Block in 1968, Polke formulates in 14 photographs what will become his program for the years to come: Höhere Wesen befehlen… (pencil and watercolor on paper)
While the majority of early untitled works show things and interiors, photographs from the early 1970s pick up on the dynamics of outdoor spaces. They were created during trips to Berlin, Paris and foreign countries such as Pakistan, but also in new rural areas of Willich. The perspective is that of an erratic wanderer; the images seem almost accidental and taken in the middle of the action, in direct interaction with people. At the heart of these images is often Polke’s partner, Mariette Althaus. These are complemented by views of found objects and isolated details, which he mysteriously brightens or darkens.
The artist’s emphasis is not a direct representation of things but rather their transformation, which is continuously guided by various experimental processes. Multiple exposures, cross fades, overexposure, solarization and darkroom effects of developer’s and fixer’s hand are highlighted to create an image flexibly. The traces of the negative are enlarged or enhanced manually on the print in order to highlight them, the silver photographic print reworked with colored drawings with egg white.
With such darkroom experimentation and the evolution of substances and processes, the 1980s saw an increasingly alchemistic thrust in Polke’s photographic works. Each image becomes a unique work and often takes on abstract pictorial aspects. Polke now turns his gaze to images from the history of art, such as Desastres or El Tiempo by Francisco de Goya, or makes his work, such as his participation in the Venice Biennale, the subject of an edition, which only includes unique pieces. In the work Übermalung eines Bildes Winterlandschaft (Painting on a winter landscape), various artistic approaches converge as different mediums: painting and photography, supposed documentation and recreation of an image, revealing and concealing.
The physical presence of the subject of the image, its material character and its cultural context are emphasized in the 1990s. Crystal, gold, minerals and metals are malleable and transmutable, shiny and translucent, with connotations going back to the mystical, one of Polke’s favorite subjects. Transparency and reflection, the effects of light, are also fundamental in the process of photography.
Sigmar Polke’s photographic images sharpen our eyes for images and their manipulation, for the exploration and explosion of genre-specific boundaries. His artistic practice is still pioneering today.
Photographs by Sigmar Polke (1964-1990)
From January 21 to March 4, 2022
D-14057 Berlin, Germany