‘I split myself in two, so to speak, so as not to do injustice to myself and the things outside my person and somehow suppress them. Perhaps, everything will come together sometime, that I can’t say, I’m very happy about this sort of manysidedness’ (S. Polke, quoted in D. Hülsmanns,’Kultur des 'Rasters: Ateliergespräch mit dem Maler Sigmar Polke’, in Rheinische Post, 10 May, 1966).
‘I like it when my art includes references to the past, to my roots. I cannot forget what my precursors have done. Even if the results look new, as far as I am concerned, as an artist I’m following an academic path. I like tracking down certain pictures, techniques and procedures. It is a way of understanding what is largely determined by tradition’ (S. Polke, quoted in M. Gayford, ‘Weird Intelligence’, in Modern Painters 16, no. 4, 2003, p. 78).
Für den Dritten Stand bleiben nur noch die Krümel (For the third rank, there are only crumbs) is a vast three-and-a-half metre long phantasmagoria painted by Sigmar Polke in 1997. Executed over a shimmering metallic fabric in a variety of media and integrating his trademark raster dots with a pulled silkscreen technique developed from his experiments with photocopying errors, the painting is a dramatic composite of a wide range of styles and methods that Polke had appropriated and developed at varying stages of his career. With its imagery splashed, poured, dripped, printed and hand-painted over a partially reflective ground, the painting is a shimmering kaleidoscope of pattern, symbol and illustrational form made in an ‘all-over’ style that was to distinguish much of Polke’s work at the turn of the millennium and dominated his 2003 exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Tate Modern, appropriately entitled The History of Everything.
In a comparatively rare move, much of the imagery of this work echoes its title. The title, Für den Dritten Stand bleiben nur noch die Krümel, carries a certain socio-critical bite that not only came to the fore in Polke’s work in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it also seems to warn of an inherent injustice within the chaos and flux of the world. A visual fusion of abstract and figurative imagery seeming to float in and out of recognisability, the overall composition of the painting is anchored by the repeated motif of a headless figure in a suit sweeping crumbs into a basket. Looking like some nineteenth-century slide show gone wrong, these images are both humorous and macabre, while Polke’s clever repetition, rotation, and distortion of them lends them the appearance of automatons slavishly sweeping and tidying a chaotic universe.
The figures themselves are part of a lexicon of informative, illustrational imagery, typical of the nineteenth century, that Max Ernst had lampooned in his collage novels Une semaine de bonté and La femme 100 têtes and which Polke repeatedly employed in his work as part of his lifelong attack on all instructional language. As Prudence Carlson once wrote of Polke’s work, his art betrays ‘quite intentionally - a mixed fascination with and contempt for the “instrumentaria” of knowledge’ (P. Carlson, Sigmar Polke: Drawings from the 1960s, exh. cat., New York, 1987, pp. 8-9). Here, Polke has made polemical use of the kind of nineteenth-century image often used to illustrate modes of behaviour. The source-image appears to derive from an illustrated drawing of a pastor or some other benevolent religious figure, sporting a Christian cross and gathering crumbs into a basket in front of another anonymous hand that holds out a begging bowl.
The title of this work seems to suggest a logical connection with the imagery of the painting in this respect, but this undermined by the fact that the repeated image of the headless man is shown rotating, almost tumbling and disintegrating in a world beyond such clarity of logic and definition; a world where image and meaning is transformed into mere form or abstract pattern and pattern and mechanical process is shown in the process of becoming form. The combination of not just raster dots but splashes and spills of paint, of distortion and elongation and also the shimmering reflective surface of the fabric on which the work is made all combine to provide a dynamic and unending sense of movement, of everything being in flux and of a whole world with no fixed order or viewpoint.
Fusing figuration and abstraction through a variety of media to layer one image over another so that the idea of reality as a composite of many shifting layers of perception is successfully conveyed, Polke has here created a unique world that exists outside the bounds of conventional logic. Fuelled by his experiments with a variety of hallucinogens and the psychedelic awareness of the limitations of normal perception that they provided, Polke has also made use of his more recent experiments with electronic printing mistakes and distortions caused by manipulating the photocopy process to suggest a world of mystery and magic rather than to suggest clarity or meaning. In this respect his aesthetic is, like Arthur Rimbaud’s, a strictly rational derangement of the senses, and his work follows a logical almost scientific procedural approach. It is an approach that takes as its starting point the kind of scientific paradox introduced to quantum physics by Werner Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ which declares that ‘the more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known’. This, in other words, means that perceived reality is an illusion and at best only an approximation of the real state of affairs.
As Für den Dritten Stand bleiben nur noch die Krümel makes clear, Polke attempts to explore the gaps that exist in conventional logic and perception through a metaphysical approach that attempts to generate a poetic magic between disparate images and objects. The emphasis in his work is on establishing strange and surprising visual relationships between form, colour and object in such a way that the viewer is forced to recognise the underlying sense and logic of Polke’s fundamentally alogical view of the world.
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010)
Acrylic, artificial resin, spray enamel and dispersion on polyester fabric
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Sigmar Polke , 1990s, Paintings, Contemporary
Berlin, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Sigmar Polke. Die drei lu¨gen der Malerei, 1997-1998 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Anselm Kiefer und Zeitgenossen, 2004-2005.
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Baselitz Bis Lassnig: Meisterhafte Bilder, 2008, p. 195 (illustrated in colour, p. 124-125).
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, CORSO. Werke der Sammlung Essl im Dialog, 2010.
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
110¼ x 138¾in. (280 x 350cm.)
D. Scholz, K. Strube, S. Polke and S. Kleine (eds.), Sigmar Polke, Die drei Lügen der Malerei, exh. cat., Bonn, Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1997 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist).
Felix Robyns Esq., London.
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 5 February 2003, lot 18.
James Cohan Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.