Anna Polke-Stiftung+49 (0) 221



Call for Applications 

The Anna Polke Foundation is pleased to announce the availability of two scholarships of €5,000 each. Supported research projects include those by scholars in the field of art history or related disciplines that re-evaluate aspects of Sigmar Polke’s oeuvre from a relevant contemporary perspective. We invite proposals that explicitly and concretely explore Polke’s multi-faceted body of work. In addition, we encourage proposals that do not focus exclusively on Polke’s oeuvre, but rather actively include it as one of several artistic positions within the discourse of the chosen research question. We particularly welcome applications from emerging scholars, including students and recent graduates. 

Focus on Photography 

This year‘s call is specifically aimed at scholars whose research focuses on Sigmar Polke’s experimental approach to photography. We invite project proposals from art historians as well as photographers or photo restorers with relevant experience working with analogue photographic materials. Projects may focus directly on Polke’s photographic oeuvre or take a broader view of his expansive interpretation of photography. Applicants are encouraged to use Polke’s diverse photographic practice as a theoretical framework for exploring their own artistic or theoretical research questions. 

The diversity of Sigmar Polke’s photographic oeuvre lies in his playful experimentation with various substances, material supports and the ensuing chemical reactions. From passport photos to small-format slides, from large-format prints to metre-long accordions, Polke’s aesthetic exploration of photography throughout his work underscores its central role as a medium for artistic thought and as a conduit for transformation within the artist’s broader body of work. This aspect is evident not only in the various formats of his photographic output, but also in the materiality of the images themselves. Shimmering streaks on photographic paper bear witness to his experimentation, which also extends to the image level, where double and multiple exposures, blends and spontaneous camera techniques create a dense picture of overlapping contexts and forms. Throughout his career, Polke also incorporated collage-like and performative elements into his photographic practice, opening up new avenues for further research and investigation. 

Applications with research proposals relating to Sigmar Polke’s photographic practice are therefore strongly encouraged. Research questions with a material-specific and work-inherent argumentative perspective – and thus also an engagement with the associated artistic viewpoint – are particularly welcome. Depending on the research interest, selected researchers can be granted access to the Foundation’s archives for their specific projects. The Foundation will also assist in establishing contact with collections that hold photographic works by Sigmar Polke, as appropriate to the research topic. 


Two scholarships will be awarded, each worth € 5,000. The division of the funding amount can be flexibly set up depending on the qualification as well as the living situation of the applicant and the nature of the project proposal. Applicants are therefore requested to submit, in addition to their work plan, a list of the desired use of funds (cost calculation). Approved funds must be used in 2024. The selection of the funded projects is made by an expert commission. 4 

Further information on the research projects funded to date can be found further down on this page.


The results of the funded research project are to be presented by the scholars within a public presentation – as a lecture, discussion or in a comparable format. Furthermore, a publication of the research findings would be desirable. The Anna Polke Foundation is interested in publishing the results of the funded projects in its own publication series. However, there is no claim to publication. 


The application deadline ends on April, 22, 2024. 

To apply, please submit the following documents in German or English: 

- CV 
- Completed form (Download PDF
- Project outline (about 1,000-2,000 words) 
- Work schedule, cost calculation (where appropriate) 

If you submit your documents in German, we also ask you to submit an English abstract (max. 200 words) of your proposal. 

Please send your applications digitally and as PDF-files to: If you have any questions, please contact Sophia Stang (+49 221 29438 633).


dr. Anja isabel schneider

Short Biography

Anja Isabel Schneider is a researcher, curator, and writer. She received an MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art and an MFA in Curating from Goldsmiths, University of London. From 2015-2020, she held a doctoral position in Curatorial Research at the M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp / LGC, KU Leuven &UC Louvain. She presented her research and curatorial projects at institutions, such as MG+MSUM, Modern galerija, Ljubljana (in the framework of L’Internationale); Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; TBA21, Vienna; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; JA.CA, Belo Horizonte; MARCO, Vigo; FRAC Lorraine; Goethe Institut/École des Beaux Arts, Nancy, among others. Currently, she is an associate researcher of the research group ARTEA, Madrid. From October to December 2023, she will be a research fellow at the DFK Paris.

Cosmic (Dis)order: Sigmar Polke and the Circus

Abstract of the research project by Anja Isabel Schneider

“Gerade das, was der Zirkus ist, steht aber nicht fest.”[1]

Due to its indeterminacy and utopic, revolutionary potentialities, the circus has been of great appeal throughout the history to artists, filmmakers, and writers. The circus, too, features in the work of Sigmar Polke. In exploring the motif of the circus in Polke’s oeuvre, we can draw a line from his early Rasterbilder, such as Zirkus (Circus), 1966, to his later works, including Zirkusfiguren (Circus Figures), 2005. This research project is aimed at contributing to an analysis of Sigmar Polke and the circus—with an outlook that is both dialogic and transdisciplinary.
Starting from Polke’s multi-faceted artistic approaches that address the circus or elements thereof in works such as Messerwerfer (Knife Thrower), 1975—in addition to exploring the circus as potential metaphor for Polke’s artistic stance—the theme of the circus proves fruitful in pointing out dialogic moments that engage with Polke’s legacy. This means not only focusing on Polke’s works, but also bringing in other voices, past and present, across different media. One such voice is that of author and filmmaker Alexander Kluge. Kluge, whose fascination with the circus gave rise to various films, literary texts, and exhibition projects, focuses on such relationality. This takes the form of multifarious dialogues. “My moon,” as Kluge poignantly notes, “does not shine if not illuminated by other constellations.”[2] Polke’s work, I posit, is endowed with such illuminating faculty.[3]
The theme of the circus points to different thematic undercurrents in Sigmar Polke’s oeuvre. To be sure, Polke’s engagement with the circus not only forges links to social, economic, and political contexts, critically admonishing the political vice of utopian dreams in the realm of air, it also designates an alternate space that is both marginal and liminal. Its epitome figure, I venture, is the tightrope walker[4] and “other high-flying acrobats”: their risky, “death-defying leaps are the most extreme a body can produce, but it does bring them off.”[5]  If the utopian element of the circus is underlined by thinkers such as Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, or Siegfried Kracauer, who ascribe utopian potential to the circus to reverse conventional world orders,[6] to suspend rules, constraints, and restrictions that govern our reality, albeit only temporarily, we are to ask: What other space(s) is/are delineated and alluded to under the big top (and other circus spaces) in the here selected works? Exploring new inroads into Sigmar Polke’s artistic production, what solidarities, forms of cooperation and resistance come to the fore with respect to contemporary circus research and practice?[7]

Featuring several hallmarks of Polke's work, a street photograph, hand painted in dots and a patterned fabric, form the backdrop to Zirkusfiguren (Circus figures), 2005. Against this background, clowns, acrobats, and animals each perform a balancing act. Polke juxtaposes Zirkusfiguren with Die Trennung des Mondes von den einzelnen Planeten (The separation of the moon from other planets), 2005, an abstracted rendering of the scene (mirrored/reversed), set against a mosaic pattern. To the now schematic circus figures, Polke adds two large dices that appear in the foreground. Beyond these overt references to chance and play, the work’s title Die Trennung des Mondes von den einzelnen Planeten propels us into the cosmic realm. As in Kluge’s pluriverse, cosmic motifs abound throughout Polke’s work. Take for instance Polke’s self-portrait as astronaut (Polke als Astronaut, 1968). The same year, the artist expands the planetary system with a 10th planet “Polke” that he invites us to explore (Erweiterung des Planetensystems um einen 10. Planeten, 1968).  Circling back to Die Trennung des Mondes von den einzelnen Planeten, a line from Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus comes to mind. A literary exploration of cosmic interference amidst a profusion of tropes:

“And the world ended. 
Or so it seemed.
Some kind of cosmic disorder,
some belch or hiccup in the digestive order of the Galaxy…”[8]

[1] Alexander Kluge, Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppelratlos (München: Piper, 1968), p. 47.
[2] Translated from the German: “Ohne von anderen Gestirnen beleuchtet zu werden, leuchtet mein Mond nicht.” Alexander Kluge, in “Glückliche Umstände, leihweise: Alexander Kluge im Gespräch mit Thomas Combrink, (ed.), Glückliche Umstände, leihweise (Frankfurt am Main: Suhkamp, 2008), pp. 338-339.
[3] See Kluge’s homage to Polke Achsenzeit Axial Age (Hommage an Sigmar Polke), 2021, Productive Image Interference. Sigmar Polke and Artistic Perspectives Today (last accessed June 1, 2023).
[4] Polke has been described as a tightrope walker: “[…] ein Seiltänzer, ein richtiger Artist, ohne Netz und ohne doppelten Boden.” Bruno Brunnet, “Im stillen Gedenken an Schlingelchen,” BZ-Berlin, 13.06.2010.
[5] Ernst Bloch, “Better Castles in the Sky at the Country Fair and Circus, in Fairy Tales and Colportage,” [1959] in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1988), p. 179.
[6] See, among others, Sigfried Kracauer, “Akrobat – schöön” in Johanna Rosenberg (ed.) Siegfried Kracauer, Der verbotene Blick – Beobachtungen, Analyse, Kritiken (Leipzig: Reclam, 1992), pp.172-185.
[7] See, for instance, (last accessed June 3, 2023).
[8] Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus, 1984, manuscript to her magical realist novel, n. pag. 

Dr. Daniel spaulding

Short Biography

Daniel Spaulding is Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on art in twentieth-century Western Europe, global modernism, critical theory, and the history of art history. Prof. Spaulding previously worked in the Curatorial Department of the Getty Research Institute and taught at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. He is currently finishing a monograph on the artist Joseph Beuys, based on a dissertation completed at Yale University in 2017, as well as an edited volume on Romanticism in the visual arts. Writings of his have appeared or are forthcoming in the Journal of Art HistoriographyOctoberOxford Art JournalRes: Anthropology and Aesthetics, and the Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, among other publications. He is a founding editor of Selva: A Journal of the History of Art ( He received the Joseph Beuys Prize for Research in 2022; in 2023, he was awarded a Wallace Fellowship from Villa I Tatti – The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. 

(Ir)rationalities of Mark-Making in the Work of Sigmar Polke 

Abstract of the research project by Daniel Spaulding

This project is part of a larger study of the interaction between capitalist rationalization and mimetic practices over the past century. My basic research question is extremely simple: “Is art-making a rational enterprise?” In the early twentieth century, many avant-garde practices modeled themselves on scientific research or mathematical calculation; think, for example, of the Russian Constructivists or Piet Mondrian’s Neoplasticism. Sigmar Polke would appear to mercilessly ironize these rationalist pretentions in well-known works such as Moderne Kunst (1968). Yet at the same time, Polke’s art in the 1960s and ’70s was deeply engaged with modern techniques of mechanical reproduction, such as halftone dot printing, even as his approach to manual gesture undermined the intuitive expressionism of the preceding modernist generation. In the research that this grant will support, I intend to investigate this dialectic in Polke's art by focusing on the two forms that I call the raster and the squiggle. The raster is a mimesis of automatized image-making, whereas the squiggle is a mimesis of “free” gestural expression. What is important is, first, that neither is exactly identical with the kind of mark-making that it imitates, and second, that neither exists in isolation from the other; rather, technical reproduction mediates irrational impulses even as quasi-Dadaist absurdities undermine technical rationality. The outcome of my research will be a chapter in a book in which I will focus on three moments in the relation between art and modern technical/economic rationalization: namely, 1) discourses of mimesis and construction in the 1920s; 2) interactions between art, labor, and capitalist production in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1960s-70s; and 3) the curious simultaneity of a vogue for new animisms in the art world (“the agency of things”; “vibrant materiality”) with the rise of artificial intelligence technology, and in particular new generative imaging algorithms, in the early 21st century. 



Lucy Degens

Short Biography

Lucy Degens is an art historian as well as media and culture studies scholar. She is currently completing her master’s degree in Art Education and Cultural Management at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf with a thesis on the Gaspelshof commune in Willich. Since 2016 she has worked for various museums, galleries, and associations, particularly in the Rhineland and Berlin. Her research focuses on contemporary and post-war art.

Collective life and work with Sigmar Polke at Gaspelshof in Willich

Abstract of the research project by Lucy Degens

“Well, you know, sometimes I need to work alone; and sometimes I need to work with others; and sometimes it is necessary to just play.”[1]

Such was Sigmar Polke’s response to Barbara Reise, who visited him in 1976 at Gaspelshof in Willich. The artist lived on this former farm from 1972 to 1978 in a dynamic communal life involving various acquaintances. Frequently referred to as a “hippiesque commune,” its beds were temporarily occupied by a series of ever-changing guests.[2] The former gallerist Erhard Klein described it as a culture involving “Lots of drinking, smoking hash, making love, painting, travelling, making music and working.”[3] Such a lifestyle manifested itself in collaborative works and exhibitions, such as the show Mu Nieltnam Netorruprup, held in 1975, a group exhibition involving Achim Duchow, Astrid Heibach, and Memphis Schulze,[4] the artists’ newspaper Day by Day … They Take Some Brain Away and participation in the 13th Bienal de São Paulo, making the 1970s a conspicuous period in the work of both Polke and others. Working together with other artists was a process that occurred almost naturally, a necessity embedded in Gaspelshof and the 1970s. 
The significance of this period for Sigmar Polke’s work has been explored several times, especially during the 2000s and 2010s. Evidence of such interest include exhibitions at Hamburger Kunsthalle in 2009, Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2014, and Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Siegen in 2019. The collective life and work in Willich was however examined with a particular focus on Sigmar Polke and the period of the 1970s, omitting temporal contexts and the influence of artists spending time in Willich. Any addressing of the artistic exchanges that occurred at Gaspelshof has, to date, remained superficial and often one-sided, in that Polke (especially with regard to Achim Duchow) is retrospectively presented as not only the source of ideas but also the author of collaborative products.[5] The exclusive focus of these recent exhibitions concerning the 1970s threatens to engender a temporal decontextualization of this creative period. As early as the 1960s, the collective genesis of works and issues of multiple authorship – for example collaborations with Christof Kohlhöfer and Gerhard Richter – were part of Polke’s practice. Such a development forms a principal element of the present art historical investigation. 
In discussions with contemporary witnesses and a reassessment of works and documents from the 1970s, the objective of the present research is to enhance information concerning life at Gaspelshof and to provide a basis on which the art created there can be contextualized and surveyed as a whole. The research interest is one of expanding the existing exclusionary approaches involving only isolated groups of works by Sigmar Polke and to outline wider historical and social contexts.

[1] Reise, Barbara: Who, What Is ‘Sigmar Polke’, in: Studio International, 982.1976, p. 84.
[2] Steffen, Katharina: Day by Day … ein Flashback mit Zukunft, in: Sigmar Polke: We Petty Bourgeois! Comrades and Contemporaries, eds. Petra Lange-Berndt/Dietmar Rübel (Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, March 13, 2009 to January 17, 2010) Cologne 2009, p. 296.
[3] Sigmar Polke. Photographs (1964-1990), eds. Silke Lemmes/Bianca Quasebarth (Düsseldorf, Sies + Höke,
June 28 to August 28, 2021; Berlin, Galerie Kicken, January 21 to March 4, 2022) Düsseldorf/Berlin 2022, p. 88.
[4] Lange-Berndt, Petra/ Rübel, Dietmar: Third Reich’n’Roll. Nationalsozialismus als Tabu und Provokation, in: Singular/Plural. Kollaborationen in der Post-Pop-Polit-Arena Düsseldorf 19691980, eds. Petra Lange-Berndt/ Dietmar Rübel/Max Schulze/Gregor Jansen (Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, July 8 to October 1) Cologne 2017, p. 125.
[5] Schulze, Max: A Planet Where Time Misbehaves, in: Singular/Plural. Kollaborationen in der Post-Pop-Polit-Arena Düsseldorf 19691980, eds. Petra Lange-Berndt/ Dietmar Rübel / Max Schulze/ Gregor Jansen (Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, July 8 to October 1) Cologne 2017, p 183. 

Mateusz Sapija

Short Biography

Mateusz Sapija is a researcher and curator. He graduated from UCL Qatar MA in Museum Studies and the Goldsmiths College MFA Curating. He works on a PhD in History of Art at the Edinburgh College of Art, titled The Rise of Post-Democracy in Contemporary European Art. Currently, he is a DAAD Doctoral Fellow at the Geschwister Scholl Institute of Political Science - LMU Munich. He worked with numerous art institutions and projects – such as Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Asakusa (Tokyo), Sharjah Biennale 12 or documenta 14 – being engaged in roles related to research, curating and public programming. 

Inside and Outside of East and West. Sigmar Polke and Eastern Europe

Abstract of the research project by Mateusz Sapija

Born as a Silesian in Oels, Polke at the age of four, along with his family, fled the now-Polish town during German expulsion towards Soviet-occupied East Germany. He relocated to West Germany eight years after and has remained there ever since. Although his roots are reaching to what is now Poland, Polke’s oeuvre is usually discussed in the context of the Western hemisphere. At the same time, his relationship with Eastern Europe is still under-explored.
Although he was still a youngster when he departed the East for the West, Polke was mature enough to understand the unstable reality and post-war struggles defining the Eastern bloc. His arrival in West Germany was the arrival to the reality of a tremendous socio-political and economic advancement of the late-1950s defined by the Wirtschaftswunder – an economic phenomenon important not only to the country’s financial prosperity but also to the rebuilding of the national identity. Polke remained calmly distant to this paradigm, which may be proven by his often-repeated words: “When I came to the West I saw many, many things for the first time. But I also saw the prosperity of the West critically. It wasn't really Heaven. (…) This attitude— looking at what is happening from a point of view outside—is still part of my work.”[1] As not only an outsider but also a notoriously reclusive personality, Polke resisted participating in the explanation of his work and strongly protected his personal life. Thus, the interpretation and history of Polke’s oeuvre was mostly constructed by the artworld, which positioned him in the Western Hemisphere context, mainly due to the Cold War attitude and its long-lasting legacy impacting the art historical thinking. Examining these developments in Polke’s personal and artistic history on the one hand, while aiming to respond to the lack of his work analysis from this angle on the other hand, this research aims to examine and rediscover the connection between Polke and Eastern Europe through in-depth archival research and literature review.
In its second strand, the research will pursue an exploration of Polke’s influence on Eastern European artistic production, which occurred both directly, towards artists and groups whom encountered Polke or exhibited in the same exhibitions, or indirectly, as a result of his seminal practice and formative approach towards the media of painting. A survey of present scholarship manifests that although there have been research projects of artistic exchanges occurring between Eastern and Western Germany and Europe, these have not impacted the main discourse. This claim may be further strengthened in the context of cultural politics relaxation occurring since Erich Honecker’s tenure in 1971, and especially after the Basic Treaty between East and West Germany in 1973 when the East German artists started to regularly travel to Western Europe. Thus, while the Berlin Wall did make the travel to the West more challenging, it did not stop Eastern Europeans from doing so, nor did it prevent Eastern European art from being exhibited. Several examples demonstrate Polke's seminal influence on Eastern European art, but also a complex set of relations and attitudes towards his legacy. Their further exploration, pursued by this project via interviews with Eastern European artists, will primarily establish a yet non-explored perspective on Polke and re-examine his work in the context of Europe's revised artistic geography and the continent's revaluated centre-periphery relations.

[1] Sigmar Polke in Martin Gayford, A Weird IntelligenceModern Painters 16, no. 4 (2004), pp. 78–85, p. 78.

Luke Smythe

Short Biography

Luke Smythe is Senior Lecturer in Art History at Monash University. His articles and essays on modern and contemporary art have appeared in many journals and catalogues, including OctoberModernism/modernity and Oxford Art Journal. He is the author of two books: Gretchen Albrecht: Between Gesture and Geometry (Massey University Press, 2019) and Gerhard Richter, Individualism, and Belonging in West Germany (Routledge, 2022). From 2012-2014, he was Guest Curator in Postwar Art at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.

Polke and Material Art History

Abstract of the research project by Luke Smythe

Sigmar Polke is well-known for his wide-ranging engagement with all manner of substances in his art.  But his work has yet to find its place within the materials-focussed narratives of art’s development in recent decades that are currently being written. With this consideration in mind, my research project takes up the task of writing a new material history of Polke’s art. By more thoroughly examining the function of materials in his work, and more closely attending to his partnerships with non-human actors, I aim, first, to establish a clearer picture of his attitudes to matter and materials and, second, to position him within the expansive nexus of art practices that during the long arc of his career made related but distinct investments in matter and its creative capabilities.
There is no shortage of discussion of Polke’s myriad material experiments, but this has often focussed on isolated bodies of work. His approach to material agency has been widely discussed as well, but mainly in relation to movements like gestural abstraction, Dada and Surrealism, and his interests in alchemy and art history. I plan, in contrast, to provide a more encompassing overview of his relationship to matter and materials, as this evolved across all areas of his practice between the 1960s and his passing, and to connect his work to other styles and movements in which matter is of primary concern. Adopting this perspective will allow me to explore the hypothesis that, by virtue of his material sensibilities, Polke can be placed art-historically between two generations of artists: European painters of the postwar period for whom matter, in the guise of shattered objects and obliterated bodies, had been synonymous with devastation; and an array of contemporary figures who embrace it as a vital and self-organising fount of creativity.
During the first phase of Polke’s career, the shadow of the war’s devastation loomed large across his work. But rather than evoke matter in its raw and degraded postwar states in the manner of established painters like Jean Fautrier, Jean Dubuffet, and Alberto Burri, he engaged with manufactured materials in the guise of consumer products and printed images. Although familiar with the hardships of the early postwar period, Polke used his Pop-inflected work of the 1960s to air misgivings about the culture of reconstruction. As industrial control of nature had expanded throughout the Wiederaufbau, a standardised material environment had taken shape. In response to this development, the lives of the burgeoning middle class were becoming as banal and homogenised as the products they consumed. Frustrated by this arrangement, Polke started to unravel and contest it in his work of the 1970s, which was informed by a new approach to materials.
It was then that he started working with raw and unstable substances, whose agency he only partly controlled. In so doing, he embraced a freer, more collaborative conception of subject-object relations than that which prevailed in the wider culture. His use of LSD as a creative co-contributor to his work was another important marker of this shift. Ingesting it endowed his sensorium with new creative capabilities, and he fed some of the resulting experiences back into his art.  But who or what was responsible for the works that bore their imprint? In each case there were several creative agents at work, who for a time became entangled, to the point where their respective contributions cannot be distinguished. As his career progressed, he would increasingly embrace such entangled arrangements and expand their parameters.
Conceiving of Polke’s work in this collaborative fashion suggests a new way of interpreting his attitudes to matter. Instead of understanding it as something low or abject in the vein of postwar matter painters or other artists working in the tradition of the informe, he lifted it above the state of fully-formed materials. Even when his works appear formless and degraded, they play host to effects of wonder and transformational strangeness, facilitated by the independent actions of unstable materials.
Positioning Polke as a celebrant of matter, alert to the entanglement of agents who cannot be strictly separated from each other, edges him toward more recent figures, like Olafur Eliasson, Herwig Weiser, Susanne Kriemann, and many others, who call attention to the agency of non-human actors in their work, often on ecological grounds and with a view to expanding our conception of what ought to count as living, creative and intelligent. I am not yet sure how closely he aligns with such figures, but I aim to elucidate this relationship, along with other issues relating to his place within material art history.


Tereza de Arruda, M.A.

Short Biography

Art historian and curator, Tereza de Arruda, has worked with various international institutions since the 1990s. She has been an advisor to the Havana Biennial since 1997, co-curator of the Kunsthalle Rostock since 2015, as well as the co-curator of the Curitiba International Biennial between 2009 and 2019. With a keen interest in the work of Sigmar Polke, she curated the exhibition Sigmar Polke Capitalist Realism and other illustrated histories at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) with the works by Polke from the collection Kunstraum am Limes, in 2011. De Arruda also curated Sigmar Polke – The Editions at me Collectors Room Berlin in 2017, which was accompanied by a publication at König Verlag. 

Day by Day – Sigmar Polke Starts aN AWAY Dialogue

Abstract of the research project by Tereza de Arruda

The significance and resonance of Sigmar Polke’s artistic production in Europe and North America are established and reviewed in numerous facets of his artistic potential. For the Anna Polke Stiftung’s scholarship program, I am proposing an analysis and the possible relation and dialogue of Sigmar Polke’s work in contexts outside the Euro-North American domain. In conducting this research, I turn my focus to his participation in two distinct biennials – São Paulo and Havana. 
In 1975 Sigmar Polke participated in the XIII Bienal de São Paulo and received his first international award the Prize for painting of the city of São Paulo. The German participation at the biennial had Evelyn Weiss as commissioner, who also invited Georg Baselitz and Blinky Palermo to represent Germany in São Paulo. In the official catalogue, she justifies her choice as following: “Three artists, three basically divergent positions in relation to painting. This is already noticeable through the adopted technique: one paints with the fingers (Baselitz), the other uses sprays and collage (Polke), the third party uses exclusively the brush (Palermo).”[1] She specifies her choice of Polke: “Polke has a very unorthodox and adamant approach to contents and forms of expression, while his behavior closely linked to the environment and society marks his works, in which he also often collaborates with his friends and acquaintances.”[2]
As a young artist Sigmar Polke traveled to São Paulo to participate in the Biennial. He was faced with a country amid military dictatorship camouflaged by rhythm, beauty and tropical spirit. The local art scene employed artifice to defend its freedom of expression. Polke already displayed and defended remarkable characteristics of his being and artistic existence. With curiosity, self-confidence, and irony, he appeared in São Paulo with the casualness of a flaneur in his appreciation of the local society accentuated by a spirit of inquiry and the critical sense of a traveling artist to capture, record, and conserve his local experience. One of the testimonies of this experience is the 16 mm film he produced, Sigmar Polke: São Paulo, 1973-75 (28 min.)Its soundtrack is an extract from the publication A Grain of Mustard Seed (The Awakening of the Brazilian Revolution) by Márcio M. Alves published in 1973. This provides proof that Polke was always aware of the contexts he was entering.
After this initial encounter with South America, Sigmar Polke never went back to Brazil. On the other hand, the involvement in the international art scene was extensive, cultivated, and established a global dialogue. Part of my interest in this research is to investigate how aware Sigmar Polke was of the local art scene and the corresponding artistic movements, as well as the significance of the presentation of his work in such a context. 45 years after this episode, the temptation to create a dialogue between Sigmar Polke and the protagonists of the local art scene emerges as a face-to-face coexistence. This should be analyzed today from both a temporal and art historical perspective, with the knowledge that Sigmar Polke cultivated a strong relationship with his artists colleagues, as described by Evelyn Weiss above.
Polke himself was a keen and critical observer of the miraculous period of post-war progress captured by his experiences, eyes, and lens. This miscellany was the basis of his archive, which was continually recombined in his vast creative production and shared with both his friends and in the context of art. “Polke’s camera accompanied him on all his trips, exhibition openings, activities among friends and shared games. Life was a performance. And like other artists, he was always concerned with rediscovering artistic production and practice. One formative influence was the transference of criticism of the bourgeois order to the individual’s way of life, so that art, the revolutionary zeitgeist, and everyday life became mutually permeable.”[3]
This scholarship will provide me with the opportunity to deepen my research on the resonance of Sigmar Polke’s work in Brazil in two ways: based on the exhibitions in which he participated and the close dialogue of his own production with the work of protagonists in contemporary Brazilian art. Additionally, for the research involved in this scholarship, I will be considering the perspective of Sigmar Polke’s participation in the 14th Havana Biennial. From this perspective I will be analyzing the reaction and possible constructive dialogues to be developed from a confrontation with the work of Sigmar Polke in one of the last communist countries in the world. Polke often stressed the conflict of the human being metaphorically crushed between the condition of the State and their own reality and phantasy. To a certain extent, this tension plays a subtle and ironic role in his work. Sigmar Polke uses magical formulas and metamorphoses as a form of expression, alternating between trivia and high-brow culture, moving among politics, economics, science, beliefs, social behavior, and other areas. In this universe, he spread ‘capitalist realism’ in opposition to ‘official’ socialist realism that existed in East Germany from the end of the Second World War until 1989. Cuba is one of the last reminiscences of this political heritage. The Havana Biennial is one of the few cultural platforms that is a relevant player for intercontinental dialogue and an understanding of the past, current, and future perspectives of the cultural relationship with Cuba. 

[1] Evelyn Weiss, Alemanha, in exh. cat. XII Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo 1975, p. 26.
[2] Ibid. (transl. amended).
[3] From the press release of the exhibition Sigmar Polke and the 1970s, Nov 4, 2018 – Mar 10, 2019, Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen (transl. amended).

Dr. Ian Rothwell

Short Biography

Dr Ian Rothwell is an art historian with a focus on contemporary art and digital culture. He received his PhD in History of Art from the University of Edinburgh in 2017 for a project titled Images under Control: Pessimism, Humour, and Stupidity in the Digital Age. He currently works as a Teaching Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Edinburgh where he teaches specialist course options on ‘Art and Digital Culture’ and ‘Bad Painting’, which analyses how painting came to be seen as the ‘bad object’ of contemporary art.  He is also working on a monograph titled The Afterlives of Post Internet Art, to be published by Routledge in 2022. 

Polke’s Bad Drawing

Abstract of the research project by Dr. Ian Rothwell

Polke’s Bad Drawing is a project about Sigmar Polke’s sense of humour, specifically as it relates to his drawing output in the 1960s when he (along with Gerhard Richter, Konrad Lueg and Manfred Kuttner) styled himself as a ‘Capitalist Realist’.  In this period he made a series of drawings of commodity goods, often made on crumpled scraps of paper, which have a provisional, casual, slapdash, and careless aesthetic. They look like intentionally bad versions of the pop art that was coming out of America at the time. There has been a lot of writing on these works. Not least, by Mark Godfrey, Dietmar Rübel, and Darsie Alexander in the book Living with Pop: A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism (2013), and in the catalogue for a 1999 exhibition at MoMA titled Sigmar Polke: Works on Paper, 1963–1974.
This project will build on the established literature on Polke’s drawing and provide a new focus on his artistic methodology, which I will argue is intentionally bad, ironic, sarcastic, and stupid. It is in this respect that this project is about Polke’s sense of humour. This is an important, essential, aspect of his oeuvre and overall aesthetic sensibility. However, it has, until this point, not received any significant studied attention. To my mind, Polke’s ‘Bad Drawings’ exemplify his sense of humour. This is why they demand attention. They are funny. But their humour is a kind of anti-humour – the ironic outcome of a seeming lack of craft, skill, and, more significantly, of any clear critical or political position. This lack is made to seem funny. 
I want to investigate this sense of humour. How can a focus on Polke’s humour supplement an analysis of these works? What about Polke’s style or ‘draughtsmanship’ makes them appear ironic? How does an artist draw sarcastically? To what extent is Polke’s style a response to the German socio-cultural context? How can we evaluate this response? To what extent can we see Polke’s ironic, sarcastic sense of humour, or anti-humour, as critical?
Whilst these ‘Bad Drawings’ were made in the 1960s, my specific focus on them in terms of their sense of humour also raises a very contemporary problem, which will also be explored in this project. Polke’s ironic and sarcastic style pre-empts the dominant sensibility of much ‘post-internet’ art and culture, which has been variously criticised for its use of irony and sarcasm as a form of overcompensation for a supposed lack of criticality. This sensibility has been pejoratively labelled a form of ‘aspirational nihilism’, which refers to a culture of sarcasm and anti-establishment sentiment that was once the preserve of the Left but has now been absorbed into the neo-reactionary and gleefully sociopathic ‘alt-right’ ideology and the imperative to ‘disrupt’ in Silicon Valley.  
There is a risk that Polke’s ‘Bad Drawings’ and his particular sense of humour might be collapsed into this bad object of ‘aspirational nihilism’. In this respect, a nuanced analysis of strategic forms of irony and sarcasm in art making is needed. It is needed so that we can extricate artistic forms, such as Polke’s ‘Bad Drawings’, from these noxious contemporary socio-cultural trends. Building on this, this project will argue that Polke’s ‘Bad Drawings’ can be seen as blueprints for an ironic and sarcastic form of art making that resists this contemporary trend of ‘aspirational nihilism’, producing critical consciousness rather than gleeful sociopathy. 


Ksenija Tschetschik-Hammerl, M.A.

Short Biography

Ksenija Tschetschik-Hammerl studied Art and Visual History as well as Modern History at Humboldt University in Berlin. In February 2020, she submitted her dissertation there titled Originalität der Nachahmung um 1600. Kunst begegnet Natur bei Hans Hoffmann und Daniel Fröschel (Originality of Imitation Around 1600: Art Faces Nature In the Works of Hans Hoffmann and Daniel Fröschel). The dissertation project was supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation. She was also a lecturer in art history at the Caspar David Friedrich Institute in Greifswald. Her teaching and research focuses on art and collecting practice in the early modern era, monograms and signatures, as well as artistic appropriation practices from the early modern period to the present.

Hasenschleife. Sigmar Polke’s Dürer Appropriation

Abstract of the research project by Ksenija Tschetschik-Hammerl

Two motifs from the oeuvre of the Nuremberg Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer appear several times in the work of Sigmar Polke. On the one hand, Polke worked with the image of the famous Young Hare (germ. Hase) from the Albertina in Vienna; and on the other, he copied the lines forming loops (germ. sing. Schleife) and curves in Dürer's marginal drawings in the prayer book of Emperor Maximilian and of the large-format woodcut Der Große Triumphwagen (The Large Triumphal Carriage). Sigmar Polke's artistic language, in which heterogeneous motifs, materials and techniques are interwoven and often recur in different contexts, suggests that Dürer’s motifs also relate to each other in his work reflecting a complex and dynamic relationship between the artist and his older colleague. In the present research project, Polke’s selection and use of Dürer's motifs are scrutinized in relation to one another for the first time. It attempts to reconstruct Polke’s appropriation of works by the Nuremberg master as a process of artistic examination spanning several decades.
The method of artistic appropriation is considered one of the most important forms of expression and strategies in modern and postmodern art. The term appropriation art has established itself in art criticism since the ground-breaking New York exhibition Pictures in 1977, which presented works by a number of young American artists. Although the presentational formats of the participating contributions diverged considerably, the imitation of imagery from outside sources characterized all of the projects. The imitation of works of others as well as various appropriations of the ‘foreign’ can already be observed in works by pre-modern artists. In art-historical research, these practices are usually explained as involving learning intentions, commitment to a canon, or motives related to artistic competition. Only rarely are reflexive or critical artistic motivations considered in connection with the imitation practices in older art. In contrast, various forms of imitation and processing of images or other objects created by others in twentieth and twenty-first century art are predominantly interpreted as subversive and critical strategies of expression. The special feature of the art-critical and art-historical reception of Polke’s appropriations of Dürer’s works has so far been that it is characterized by two seemingly contradictory interpretative perspectives, thus creating the impression of a disconcertingly incongruent view of Dürer on the part of Polke.
While Polke’s works incorporating the motif of Dürer’s hare are explained as a persiflage of post-war consumer culture or as a trivialization of artistic tradition, his adoptions of Dürer’s line loops are primarily interpreted as an exceedingly serious examination of Dürer’s creative impetus or at least of his artistic status. Hence the current state of research on Polke’s reception of Dürer reveals contradictory and almost mutually exclusive explanatory concepts and calls for a thorough reconsideration. The present research project focuses on the interplay between various appropriations of Dürer’s works in Sigmar Polke's oeuvre. The investigation touches on fundamental questions of Polke research, including the correlation between irony and Polke’s interest in creative and generative processes in his art. Furthermore, the significance of authorship and artistic authority in Polke's oeuvre is re-examined.

Magnus Schäfer, M.A.

Short Biography

Magnus Schäfer is an author and curator. From 2012 to 2019 he was a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he co-organized the retrospectives Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 (2014) and Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts (2018-19), and organized Projects 195: Park McArthur (2018-19), the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition in New York. Together with Hannes Loichinger he published the first comprehensive monograph on Ull Hohn, titled Foregrounds, Distances, in 2015. The focus of his current research is on the role of digital media in formatting perception.

There is No Such Thing as Too Much Information: Sigmar Polke and the Digital

Abstract of the research project by Magnus Schäfer

From the 1960s until the first decade of the twenty-first century, Sigmar Polke's multifaceted work questioned and deliberately undermined the conventions of artistic media including painting, drawing, photography, film and language. While he nominally adhered to these media, he continually eroded their boundaries, relinquishing established certainties about their appearance and functions. The period in which Polke worked coincided with the proliferation of digital communication and image media. This raises the question of whether and to what extent Polke’s images can be brought into a productive dialogue with this development. Of less interest here is the role digital images have played in Polke’s work, which is minor. Rather, the research project Es gibt kein Zuviel an Information. Sigmar Polke und das Digitale (There is No Such Thing as Too Much Information: Sigmar Polke and the Digital) investigates the forms in which the relationship between the continuity of the Kittlerian “Real” and its translation into discrete information characterizing the digital comes into play in Polke's hybrid image media.

As Rachel Jans and Kathrin Rottmann have pointed out in their contributions to the catalogue Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, some of Polke’s works from the 1960s attest to a familiarity on the part of the artist with the technical-formal foundations of the television image coded into individual pixels (conveyed by his teacher Karl-Otto Götz) and the binary on/off scheme of digital operations. However, the fact that Polke imagined digital communication in 1968 as a telepathic session with the late poet William Blake illustrates that the seriousness with which contemporaries such as Max Bense had proposed communication theory as the basis for a new aesthetic a few years earlier is diametrically opposed to Polke’s artistic sensitivity.
In the early 1980s, however, things looked somewhat different. The Copyist (1982) shows a figure in the foreground, bent over a desk and writing into a large book. This medieval copyist is not reproducing another manuscript, but is observing a landscape which, the composition suggests, he translates into writing; he transfers the phenomenological wealth of what he sees into a discreet and symbolic medium, thus opening it up to further forms of data processing.
At the other end of the media spectrum are Polke’s novel gestural-abstract works, among them the Negative Value triptych, also created in 1982. These pictures feature iridescent surface effects, which Polke achieved through special treatment of violet pigments; they change according to the standpoint of the viewer, so that the three canvases can appear dramatically different from different perspectives. These effects—and thus the images as such—are difficult to capture in photographs and thus resist being stored as discrete information. Polke developed this experimental approach at a time when electronic data processing was becoming more and more important and visible. With the technique of dragnet investigation introduced in the late 1970s, automated data processing became established in the societal consciousness of the Federal Republic of Germany. At about the same time, the first PCs became available to consumers. Against this background, Polke’s abstract images could be understood, with reference to the media theorist Friedrich Kittler, as the noise that underlies all communication and simultaneously forms the unwritable counterpart to the symbolic.
Polke also began experimenting with photocopiers in the 1980s. Enlargements of images from newspapers and magazines made the raster of the printed originals clearly visible—an effect he had been reproducing manually since the 1960s. Owing to the inaccuracy of the copying process, these enlargements created previously invisible constellations of raster dots which Polke sometimes extended or commented on with additional graphisms in order to give them a figurative meaning. By moving the originals during the copying process, he distorted representational motifs, sometimes causing them to become abstract (e.g. in the portfolio Kugelsichere Ferien (Bullet-Proof Holidays) from 1995). In the vocabulary of communication theory, noise stands for too many choices on the part of the recipient, i.e. a surplus of information that erases meaning. In order to transmit information economically, it is necessary to achieve the ideal distance between meaning and the inevitable noise. Polke’s photocopy experiments show that an excess of information can also lead to new meanings, thus opening up a productive dimension to noise.
In terms of the significance of the digital in Polke's later works, the question arises as to how far the juxtaposition with Hito Steyerl's concept of the “poor” image (cf. her essay In Defense of the Poor Image from 2009) can be illuminating. As it circulates through the media, the “poor” image, which is digital in principle, undergoes processes of compression, quality reduction and contextual shift, and thus appears as a “visual idea in its very becoming,” linked to the contemporary conditions of image distribution. Can Polke’s distorted photocopies be understood as analogue precursors of these “poor” images, or as a counter-model that, despite formal similarities (e.g. low resolution or reproductions of already reproduced material), makes the differences all the more obvious?



Short Biography

Dirk Hildebrandt is a research assistant at the Institute of Art History at the University of Cologne (focus on modern/contemporary art and aesthetic theories); studied art history and philosophy in Bonn, Paris and Basel. Doctorate at the University of Basel (The Extension of Art. Allan Kaprow und der Werkbegriff des Happenings); current research interests: Asger Jorn and the networks of European post-war art, artists' books and processes of intermedial writing, theories of art and artists in modernism and the present.

In die Fläche publizieren. Sigmar Polke’s (artist) books

Abstract of the research project by Dr. des. Hildebrandt

The Anna Polke Foundation-funded project In die Fläche Publizieren (Publishing in two dimensions) explores a medium that offers new insights into Sigmar Polke's entire artistic production: the (artist) book.
The fact that art is initially in parentheses here is due not least to the fact that Polke's books do not stand out, at least not in the sense of artist books as they are known from the corresponding research – for instance as particularly exalted and expensive 'originals' that above all explore the limits of the book format. Polke's book-like publications appear - mainly as 'wolves in sheep's clothing', i.e. as outwardly rather reservedly designed examples of their genre. Consequently, it is not only a matter of focusing on the individual 'book as a work of art', but also on the manifold contexts in which Polke (re)-turned to the book as a publication medium for his artistic production. This means that not only these books themselves, but also their relationships to neighbouring formats should be examined, the design and publication of which the artist practiced over the course of his career (e.g. newspaper articles, editions, articles in catalogues and magazines). In short, the (artist) book is of interest as a medium that opens up contexts in Polke's multifaceted oeuvre and enables connecting structures to be revealed.
            So the 'art' in Polke's (artist) books is not in parentheses here because, for example, its status, its 'artfulness' and its belonging to the artist's oeuvre would be otherwise unclear. Rather, it is about the book as mediator that allows the artist's procedures, which extend to artless (and therefore political) contexts, such as those known from Polke's painting or graphic art, to be made comprehensible in another, different way. In relation to Polke's oeuvre, the (artist) book has different explanatory functions. It not only makes visible connections to artistic and historical, as well as economic and political contexts, but also makes intermedial processes readable. In other words, the (artist) book promises to mediate in a new way between painting, sculpture, photography, film, and church windows, i.e. the forms of expression for which the artist's work is generally appreciated.
            Referring to the history of the book as a means of artistic expression or publication in this analysis has the advantage that it brings into play ideas of mediality that are off the beaten track of post-war art history. Unlike painting, for example, the book appears per se as a medium that defines its own subject matter and nature by borrowing from other and different media. In order to be able to represent this 'otherness' in a meaningful way with regard to Polke's art, it is nevertheless indispensable to stick closely to the 'previous' history. Concepts of 'flatness' are available to investigate connections between book and painting. While these concepts, especially under the conditions of the 1960s, were still closely connected to an engagement with painting, the project In die Fläche publiziereninvestigates an intermedial flatness that is intended to allow the various technical, artistic and contextual interrelationships within Sigmar Polke's work to be followed.

Dr. Julie Sissia

Short Biography

Julie Sissia holds a doctorate in art history from the IEP of Paris (2015). She is associate researcher at the Centre d'histoire de sciences Po and lecturer at the Ecole du Louvre. Her book entitled The German Mirror. GDR and FRG in the discourse on contemporary art in France. 1959–1989 will be published by Les presses du réel. In 2019, she worked as a scientific collaborator at the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris on the Hans Hartung retrospective (autumn 2019). From 2010 to 2015, she was a member of the research team at the German Centre for Art History (Paris) within the ERC project A chacun son réel.

"Cher Maître". Sigmar Polke and France

Abstract of the research project by Dr. Sissia

"Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) is one of the great painters of the second half of the twentieth century. We know this everywhere in Europe, except in France [...]"[1].
In this succinct statement in the daily newspaper Le Monde from 2013, the art historian Philippe Dagen deplores French museums' lack of interest in Sigmar Polke. While the artist was celebrated at MoMA and Tate Modern, the Musée national d'art moderne in Paris preferred Anselm Kiefer and Jeff Koons. However, this criticism must be viewed in a more differentiated way.
"Cher Maître" (Dear Master)... Suzanne Pagé turned to Sigmar Polke with admiration during the preparation of his exhibition at the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1988)[2]. As director of the museum and the ARC – an experimental art space housed in the same building – Suzanne Pagé made this institution an indispensable contemporary art venue in France beginning inthe early 1970s. At the museum, she particularly supported German artists of Sigmar Polke's generation. In 1981, Polke was on view in the exhibition Art Allemagne Aujourd'hui; with the famous Berlin gallery owner René Block, she brought together artists who had made Germany one of the world’s most dynamic art centres[3]. French museums’ late recognition of an entire generation of German artists was a consequence of the painful history between the two countries; it was also due to the reluctance of French critics and art historians since the 1960s to accept that Paris was no longer the international art capital. The recognition of German artists in 1980s France was hardly unanimous.
While in the 1980s the German identity that several German artists laid claim to irritated certain protagonists of the French art scene, Sigmar Polke enjoyed unanimous recognition. So what place does he occupy in the French discourse, and according to what criteria are his works perceived? I would like to investigate the extent to which French art historians and critics nevertheless viewed Sigmar Polke politically. The artist steered clear of national categories and was therefore not classified as a "German artist". But like his work, his French reception cannot be regarded as apolitical for this reason. From the bicentenary of the French Revolution (1989), to the exhibition Les Magiciens de la terre – which was also part of this celebration – Polke's works are showcased in artistic events with strong political content that interrogate the history of France from an international perspective as well as its place in an increasingly globalized world.
To what extent did French critics, and French artists, regard Polke's work as epitomizing new artistic paradigms? Is French discourse on his work singular in a time of crisis in modernity, which is often described in a somewhat hasty generalization as 'postmodernism'? The study intends to examine the values, as well as the prejudices – even if they are positive – on which the discourse on Polke's work is based. These hypotheses require a broader perspective on the French context. On the one hand, it is necessary to confront the French reception with other art critiques, whether in Germany (in the influential journal Texte zur Kunst), or in the USA (for example October); on the other hand, the role of relevant events, especially the Venice Biennale of 1986, which played an important part in the assessment of Sigmar Polke's work also in France, must be taken into account.

[1]Philippe Dagen, Comment Sigmar Polke a rajeuni le vieil art de peindre, in Le Monde, 2 December 2013.
[2]Paris, Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, archives of the exhibition Polke, 20 October–31 December 1988.
[3]Art Allemagne Aujourd’hui, Paris, Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 17 January–8 March 1981.