Tate Modern  Level 4
2 October 2003 – 4 January 2004

Sigmar Polke: History of Everything is the first major exhibition in London devoted to this renowned German artist. The exhibition showcases new large-scale works alongside paintings and drawings from the last six years. One of the most innovative and influential artists of his time, Sigmar Polke (born 1941) has developed an extraordinarily diverse body of work in painting, drawing and photography that combines technical expertise and a sense of irony.

Sigmar Polke engages with the nature and role of painting in a society saturated by visual information. Moving freely between abstraction and representation, his works often juxtapose and layer abstract elements with fragments of images culled from both art history and the mass media, raising questions about the meaning and authenticity of images.

Sigmar Polke: History of Everything presents over sixty paintings and works on paper including forty-one works from the presentation at the Dallas Museum of Art and around twenty new or previously unseen works. The exhibition includes new large-scale mixed-media works made specifically for the Tate installation, works from the Printing Mistakes series of the late 1990s, ‘machine paintings’ and mixed media works, all of which are on public view in the UK for the first time. These works are united by their experimentation with materials, subject-matter, styles and sources, and by their exploration of the nature of perception and the boundaries between abstraction and figuration.

The Printing Mistakes series shows Polke’s ongoing fascination with printing aberrations and their potential to create meaningful images. In these works Polke exploits printed glitches, such as distorted benday dots or smudged type, found in popular media. In Splatter Analysis 2002, part of a more recent group of paintings centred on images of the American West and contemporary newspaper reportage of people with guns, the holes in a bullet-riddled target echo the benday dots in the Printing Mistakes.

Since the 1980s, Sigmar Polke has used the photocopying machine to manipulate and simulate his source material, magnifying or otherwise distorting the originals. In his recent large-scale ‘machine paintings’, named after their mechanical production process, Polke manipulates found newspaper images using photomechanical processes. InThe Hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda 2002, satellite technology isolates a group of horse riders and translates them into an abstract blip.

Sigmar Polke’s most recent major retrospective The Three Lies of Painting was held in Bonn in 1997. He was awarded the Golden Lion Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1986, the Carnegie Prize in 1995 and the Praemium Imperiale of the Japan Association 2002.

The exhibition was first shown at the Dallas Museum of Art (15 November 2002 – 6 April 2003) where it was organised by Director John R. Lane and Curator Charles Wylie. The presentation at Tate Modern has been curated by Tate Modern Director Vicente Todolí. Both the Dallas Museum of Art and Tate Modern exhibitions were organised in close collaboration with the artist. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated publication featuring essays by Dave Hickey and Charles Wylie.

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