Sigmar Polke (German, 1941–2010) was a painter, photographer, and printmaker one of the founders of the Capitalist Realist movement in the 1960s. Polke was born in Olesnica, in present-day Poland, and in 1953 moved to Willich, Germany, where he apprenticed as a glass-painter. He then studied at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, and showed the first of his Capitalist Realist works, which were ironic responses to Social Realism and Pop Art, in a 1963 exhibition he organized with fellow artists Gerhard Richter and Konrad Fischer-Lueg. Eliciting commentary on the lifestyle and conventions of the German middle class, these early pieces already displayed Polke’s hallmark wit and irony. The works incorporate everyday and mass-produced objects, which corresponded with the cheap surfaces on which he painted, such as wallpaper or fabric, as well as his use of offset printing techniques.

Polke also used a print raster aesthetic, which he called a “grid” technique, in which he painted enlarged images of magazines and newspapers on canvas, mixing art historical motifs with commercial imagery. In the 1970s, Polke travelled extensively and worked increasingly with photography, using photographs taken in Pakistan and Afghanistan as the source material for later paintings. From 1977, Polke was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg, a position he held until 1991. In his large gestural paintings from the 1980s, Polke worked with both traditional and unusual materials, using chemicals, varnishes and mixtures of pigments, solvents and toxins in his work. He exhibited his work at the documenta 5, 6, and 7 exhibitions in Kassel, and had several international retrospectives. Polke’s last work was the renewal of the glass windows of the Großmünster cathedral in Zurich between 2006 and 2009, before he died of cancer in 2010.

Timeline

1941
Born in Oels/Silesia, now Poland
1945
Family fled to Thuringia, East Germany
1953
Emigrated to West Berlin and then settled in Düsseldorf, West Germany
1959–1960
Glass-painting apprenticeship in Düsseldorf
1963
Founded “Kapitalistischen Realismus,” a painting movement with Gerhard Richter and Konrad (Fischer) Lueg
1964
Awarded the Young Germans award in Baden-Baden with Klaus Geldmacher and Dieter Krieg
1961–1967
Studied at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Karl Otto Goetz and Gerhard Hoehme
1975
Awarded the prize for painting at the XIII Bienal de Sao Paulo
1986
Awarded the Golden Lion at the XLII Biennale di Venezia
1988
Awarded the 1988 Baden-Württemberg International Prize for Painting
1977–1991
Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Hamburg, Germany
1995
Carnegie Award at the Carnegie International, Pittsburgh, USA
1998
International Center of Photography, Infinity Award for Art; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, USA
2002
Awarded Praemium Imperiale by the Japan Art Association
2007
Awarded Rubenspreis by the City of Siegen
Lives and works in Cologne, Germany

Exhibitions

2011–2012
Capitalist realism and other illustrated histories, Museu de Art de Sao Paulo, Brazil
2010
Hommage an Sigmar Polke, anlässl. Des Todes von Sigmar Polke, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany
2009
Sigmar Polke: Die Editionen, Museum Ludwig, Köln, Germany
Sigmar Polke: Wir Kleinbürger! Zeitgenossen und Zeitgenossinnen, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
Sigmar Polke: Lens Paintings, The Arts Club of Chicago, and Michael Werner Gallery, New York, USA
2008
Sigmar Polke: Photographische Arbeiten aus der Sammlung Garnatz, Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, and Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany
Sigmar Polke: Linsenbilder, Galerie Michael Werner at Julius Werner Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Sigmar Polke: Interferenzen & Uran, Springer & Winckler Galerie, Berlin, Germany
The 30th Anniversary: Collection of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan
Ruckblende, Die Fotosamlung der Neuen Galerie Graz, Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz, Austria
2007
Sigmar Polke: Kulturschablone, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany
Sigmar Polke, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Siegen, Germany
2006
Sigmar Polke: Alice in Wonderland, The National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan
Implosion, Anton Kern Gallery, New York, USA
Mythologies, Walker Art Center, Minnesota, USA
Sigmar Polke: 64 Photographs from 1977, Springer & Winckler Galerie, Berlin, Germany
Frontiers: Collecting the Art of our Time, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, USA
Sigmar Polke: Photographs 1960-2005, Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany
2005
Stratification: an installation of works since 1960, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA
Sigmar Polke, Photographs 1969 – 1974, Nyehaus, New York, USA (solo)
Sigmar Polke: Ausgesuchte Werke, Galerie Karl Pfefferle, Munich, Germany (solo)
Sigmar Polke: Fotografien 1964-1968/1990, Galerie Stefan Röpke, Cologne, Germany (solo)
Sigmar Polke: Vintage Photographs from a Private Collection, Galerie Judin / Haunch of Venision, Zürich, Switzerland (solo)
Alice in Wonderland, Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo, Japan
Sigmar Polke: Works & Days, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland (solo)
Sigmar Polke: Music From an Unknown Source, Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts, Hanoi, Vietnam (solo)
2004
Sigmar Polke: Fotografien 1964 – 2000, Springer & Winckler Galerie, Berlin, Germany (solo)
The History of Everything, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA
Projects on paper II, Mike Karstens, Münster, Germany (solo)
Sigmar Polke: History of Everything, Tate Modern, London, England
2003
Sigmar Polke: Original + Fälschung, Rupertinum Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
2002
Sigmar Polke, Ishizaka Art, Spark Inc, Tokyo, Japan
Sigmar Polke: Recent Paintings and Drawings, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA
2001
Sigmar Polke: Music of Unclear Origin, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland
Kunst ist unser Antrieb. Sigmar Polke, Die Gesamten Editionen (1963-2000), Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, Germany
2000
Sigmar Polke: Die Alten, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain
1999
Sigmar Polke: Works on Paper, 1963-1974, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
1998
Sigmar Polke: Printing Mistakes 1996-98, Michael Werner Gallery, New York, USA
1997
Sigmar Polke: Die drei Lügen der Malerei, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, Germany
1996
Sigmar Polke. Arbeiten auf Papier, Deutsche Bank Luxembourg S.A., Luxemburg
Sigmar Polke Photoworks: When Pictures Vanish, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, USA (solo)
1995
Sigmar Polke: Join The Dots, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Liverpool, England
1994
Sigmar Polke, Carré d'Art, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Nîmes, France
1993
Sigmar Polke: Gemeinschaftswerk Aufschwung Ost, Bruno Brunnet Fine Arts, Berlin, Germany
1992
Sigmar Polke: Schilderijen, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
1991
Sigmar Polke, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, USA
Sigmar Polke, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA
Sigmar Polke, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C.
Sigmar Polke, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, USA
Polke, Michael Werner, New York, USA
1990
Sigmar Polke: Das photographische Werk, Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (solo)
1989
Sigmar Polke: Fotografien Paris 1971, Jablonka Galerie, Cologne, Germany (solo)
1988
Sigmar Polke, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, ARC, France
1986
Mary Boone Gallery, New York, USA
Athanor. Il padiglione, Pavillon der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, XLII Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (solo)
1984
Kunsthaus, Zürich, Kunsthalle Köln, Germany
Sigmar Polke, Museum Boymans-van-Beuningen, Rotterdam; Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Bonn, Germany
1983
Zeichnungen 1963-1968, Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne, Germany
Sigmar Polke - Carte/Fotografie/Tele, Studio d'Arte Cannaviello, Milan, Italy (solo)
Sigmar Polke - 39 Fotounikate, Galerie Thomas Borgmann, Cologne, Germany (solo)
1982
Holly Solomon Gallery, New York, USA
1980
Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne, Germany
1979
Galerie Bama, Paris, France
1978
InK, Halle für internationale neue Kunst, Zürich, Switzerland
1977
Sigmar Polke: Fotos / Achim Duchow, Projektionen, Kasseler Kunstverein, Kassel, Germany
Sigmar Polke: Fotos, Galerie Klein, Bonn, Germany (solo)
1976
Sigmar Polke Bilder: Tücher - Objekte. Werkauswahl 1962-1972, Kunsthalle Tübingen, Tübingen; städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
1975
Mu Nieletnam Netorruprup, Kunsthalle zu Kiel und Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel, Germany
1974
Original + Fälschung, Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Bonn, Germany
1973
Franz Liszt kommt gern zu mir zum Fernsehen, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, Germany
1972
Galerie des Goethe-Instituts, Provisorium, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
1970–1971
Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne, Germany
1970
Kabinett für aktuelle Kunst, Bremerhaven, Germany
1968
Galerie René Block, Berlin, Germany
1966
Galerie h, Hannover, Germany
Hommage à Schmela, Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, Germany