Sigmar Polke: History of Everything: An introduction to Sigmar Polke: Abstraction and figuraration

Sigmar Polke Triptych  2002
Sigmar Polke Anyone Can Have Out-of-Body Experiences at Will  2002

Many works in this exhibition reflect Polke’s ongoing fascination with the relationship between abstract and figurative art. The centre piece of the exhibition is the vast abstract Triptych (2002), consisting of three panels of swirling streaks and washes. Although this work seems to be the product of a spontaneous creative urge, the shapes are actually manipulated and enlarged sections from two of the Machine Paintings. The painted image is overlaid with layers of resin, but is transparent enough to allow the wooden stretcher bars to show through. These create a neat grid which contrasts with the organic shapes on the surface. In this work Polke plays with references to different styles of abstract painting, both abstract geometric structures and expressive washes and mark-making.

Elsewhere in the exhibition Polke combines these different styles of abstraction with figurative imagery – cartoons, childish scribbles and references to art history. In Untitled (1999), three different views of windmills are connected by sweeping webs of black and blue paint. With the presence of cartoon-like labouring figures and a nineteenth-century puppeteer, this apparently quirky juxtaposition of images begins to suggest an oddly haunting landscape.