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b. 1941, Oels, Silesia (now Olesnica, Poland)
Over the past 40 years, Sigmar Polke has created complex works that have helped define the art of the time. In the 1960s, he forged a new, unique vision of German art, which during the postwar years had been largely derivative of gestural abstraction. During this time Polke began making his “dot” paintings, manually executed parodies of the Benday dot screens used by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Although he shared visual strategies with American Pop artists, he was less concerned with appropriating the pictorial style of advertising than in depicting the desired objects of a consumer society. While at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1963, Polke and fellow students Konrad Lueg and Gerhard Richter consolidated their ideas of cultural criticism into a style they termed Capitalist Realism. The humorous and deliberately “unskilled” qualities of Polke’s earliest works formalized a critique of both Socialist Realism and Pop art.
During the 1970s, Polke slowed his art production in favor of travel to Afghanistan, Brazil, France, Pakistan, and the U.S., where he shot photographs and film footage that he would incorporate in his subsequent works during the 1980s. Using materials such as sheer synthetic fabrics, colored lacquers, and hydrosensitive chemicals in combination with paint, he began to self-consciously undermine the conventions of painting and to challenge its appropriateness as a medium to comment on contemporary life. Kathreiners Morgenlatte, with its layered composition incorporating fabric and painted imagery, is an example of this questioning. An image of a dull, domestic interior is superimposed over patterned swatches and clippings culled from the mass media, creating a formal metaphor for the complex layering of ideas found in postmodernism. To underscore his “destruction” of the traditional easel painting, Polke has apparently taken the wooden stretcher, cut it up and strewn the pieces over the surface of the work. Inverting his own name but signing “Henri Matisse” right side up, Polke ironically comments on the presumed necessity of including an accepted sign of high modernism in order to guarantee the authenticity and value of an artwork. By reconciling a complex group of references in Kathreiners Morgenlatte, Polke presents a critique of the condition of the artist and the impossibility of a sustained originality in contemporary art in the late 20th century. The artist currently lives and works in Cologne.