Sigmar Polke
  • Introduction

  • Bio

  • Exhibitions

  • Publications

Sigmar Polke – Cash laughs and other powerful symbols

In 1970 Klaus Staeck co-founded Germany’s first “International Art and Information Fair”, the “mother of German art fairs” in the post-war era, later re-named “ART COLOGNE”. Sigmar Polke, who was born in Lower Saxony and died in Cologne in 2010, was part of this initiative from the start, together with Joseph Beuys and a number of other artists from the Rhineland area. As a painter and photographer he was credited with creating post-modern realism, often referred to as “capitalist realism”, because he deliberately played with aspects of Pop Art, a movement he has not been credited with. His paintings contain strong ironic elements. Consumer culture is observed with a critical eye and its stylistic devices are used in his typical collage style.

As was the case with his patrons Rolf and Klaus Staeck, Polke was strongly influenced by his journey from East to West: After moving with his family first from Lower Silesia to Thuringia in 1945, he then moved from the GDR across to West Berlin in 1953. A subsequent move to Willich near Mönchengladbach marked the beginning of Polke’s “western era” and his interaction with a previously forbidden world of consumer goods.

From 1959 to 1960 Polke undertook a glass-painting apprenticeship in Düsseldorf-Kaiserwerth. There he met the future Biennial artist Hella de Santarossa, whose parents owned the factory. From 1961 to 1967 he studied under Gerhard Hoehme and Karl Otto Götz at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. The student movements of 1968, with their leaders in Frankfurt and West Berlin, were both a catalyst and source of inspiration for his work, transforming the American politicised Pop Art into its own unique language. When Sigmar Polke founded capitalist realism together with Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg in 1963, he established an artistic style that took as its starting point, in terms of conception and realisation, the initiative “Leben mit Pop – Eine Demonstration für den Kapitalistischen Reaslismus” (“Life with Pop – A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism”). Sigmar Polke is therefore not only a role model to the students at the academies and universities in which he taught, but also to many young American artists. From 1970 to 1971 he was Guest Professor at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, and he returned their as Professor from 1977 to 1991. In Hamburg he continually experimented with new media, printing techniques, and other means of reproduction, establishing in his works an advertising aesthetic from the 50s and 60s that had marked his time as a teenager in the GDR and the FRG. His aesthetic also had an internationally recognisable artistic style, however, and it influenced both the humour and the self-identification of Americans, Britons, and Western Europeans. His fundamental themes were always money and value, art and the market, goods and the art world, in all their facets and varieties.  His works were continually edited and produced at affordable prices to reach a broad audience and complement his countless exhibitions and themed museum exhibits. 

Christina Wendenburg
1941Born in Oels, Lower Silesia
1945 Escape of the family to Thüringen
1953Escape of the Family to West-Germany
1959-1960Apprenticeship as glasspainter in Düsseldorf
1961-1967Studies at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf
1970-1971Visiting Professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg
1972Participation at Documenta 5
1977Participation at Documenta 6
1977-1991Professor at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg
1978Moving to Cologne
1982Participation at Documenta 7

Awards (Selection)


Exhibitions (Selection)

2007Sigmar Polke, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
2006“Sigmar Polke – Alice in Wonderland”, The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan
2006“Implosion”, Anton Kern Gallery, New York, USA  
2006    “Mythologies”, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA
2006“Sigmar Polke: Photographs 1960-2005”, Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim  
2005 “Alice in Wonderland”, Ueno Royal Museum, Tokio, Japan  
2005"Sigmar Polke. Works & Days", Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland
2005 "Sigmar Polke: Music From an Unknown Source”, Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts, Vietnam 
2005 Sigmar Polke, Photographs 1969 – 1974, Nyehaus, New York, USA
2005Sigmar Polke – Ausgesuchte Werke, Galerie Karl Pfefferle, Munich 
2005Sigmar Polke - Fotografien 1964-1968/1990, Galerie Stefan Röpke, Cologne
2004   Sigmar Polke – Fotografien 1964 – 2000, Springer & Winckler Galerie, Berlin
2004“The History of Everything”, The Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA
2003 - 2004"Sigmar Polke: History of Everything", Tate Modern, London, UK
2000"Sigmar Polke. Die Alten", Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain
1998"Sigmar Polke. Printing Mistakes 1996-98", Michael Werner Gallery, New York, USA 
1996 "Sigmar Polke. Arbeiten auf Papier", Deutsche Bank Luxembourg S.A., Luxemburg
1995 "Sigmar Polke. Join The Dots", Tate Gallery Liverpool, Liverpool, UK
1994 "Sigmar Polke", Carré d'Art, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Nîmes, France
1992 "Sigmar Polke. Schilderijen", Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
1991 "Sigmar Polke", The Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA
1991"Sigmar Polke", Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA    
1991"Sigmar Polke", Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., USA  
1990 - 1991"Sigmar Polke", Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
1990 - 1991"Polke", Michael Werner, New York, USA
1986   Athanor. Il padiglione, Pavillon der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, XLII Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy
1984 Kunsthaus, Zürich, Kunsthalle Köln  
1983 - 1984"Sigmar Polke", Museum Boymans-van-Beuningen, Rotterdam; Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Bonn 
1983 Sigmar Polke - Carte/Fotografie/Tele, Studio d'Arte Cannaviello, Milan, Italy 
1982 Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, USA
1979Galerie Bama, Paris, France
1977Sigmar Polke -Fotos / Achim Duchow - Projektionen, Kasseler Kunstverein, Kassel   
1975"Mu Nieletnam Netorruprup", Kunsthalle zu Kiel und Schleswig-Holstein  
1973"Franz Liszt kommt gern zu mir zum Fernsehen", Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster 
1972    Galerie des Goethe-Instituts, Provisorium, Amsterdam, Netherlands
1970Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst, Bremerhaven
1968Galerie René Block, Berlin
1966 Galerie h, Hannover (with Gerhard Richter)
1966  "Hommage à Schmela", Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf

Books/Catalogs (Selection)

Klaus Staeck: Sigmar Polke Rasterfahndung. Göttingen 2010
Sigmar Polke – Fenster für das Grossmünster Zürich. Zürich/New York 2010
Barbara Alms (Hrsg.): Man Ray bis Sigmar Polke. Eine besondere Fotografiegeschichte. Sammlung Barbara und Horst Hahn. Ausstellungskatalog Städtische Galerie Delmenhorst 2006
Anita Shah: Die Dinge sehen wie sie sind. Zu Sigmar Polkes malerischem Werk seit 1981. Weimar 2002
Jürgen Becker und Claus von der Osten (Hrsg.): Sigmar Polke. Die Editionen 1963–2000. Catalogue raisonné. Ostfildern-Ruit 2000
Sigmar Polke. Die drei Lügen der Malerei. Ausstellungskatalog Kunst– und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn 1997
David Thistlewood (Hrsg.): Sigmar Polke. Back to Postmodernity / Tate Gallery Liverpool. Tate Gallery Liverpool critical forum series Bd. 4., Liverpool University Press, Liverpool 1996
Russell Ferguson (Hrsg.): Sigmar Polke. Photoworks. When pictures vanish. Ausstellungskatalog Museum of Contemporary Art. Scalo, Los Angeles/Zürich 1995
Martin Hentschel: Die Ordnung des Heterogenen. Sigmar Polkes Werk bis 1986. Darmstadt 1991
Bice Curiger im Gespräch mit Sigmar Polke. Ein Bild an sich ist schon eine Gemeinheit. 18. Dez. 1984. In: Parkett, Nr. 26, Zürich 1990

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