THE FIRST ITALIAN EXHIBITION DEDICATED TO SIGMAR POLKE, A MULTIFACETED TALENT ARTIST, IS NOW HELD AT THE MAJESTIC PALAZZO GRASSI IN VENICE.
The exhibition is curated by Elena Geuna and Guy Tosatto and takes place on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the assignment of the Golden Lion to the artist, conferred to him in 1986 during the 42nd Venice Biennale.
The exhibit runs through the three floors of the building, through a chronological backtracking showing the devolution of his artwork and his pictorial experimentation. Not surprisingly, Axial Age, the most significant series of paintings created by the artist during his last decade of life, opens the show. This series of paintings is a kind of summa of Polke, which puts together his philosophical interests and his artistic experimentation where, thanks to the use of resins, he manages to create and play on a “see-through effect” that ensures the viewer a 360° usability of the canvas. The title refers to philosopher Karl Jaspers’s belief, that in a period between 800 and 200 b.c., men would have lived an exceptional moment in which laid the foundation of all future development of humanity.
The two main issues on which the show runs are politics, which the artist represents in terms of complaint, and alchemy which is presented in terms of painting, through both the merger of various pigments and materials and the themes and characters presented in his works.
For exemple the work, (unfortunately only shown through a video documentation), which made him win the Golden Lion in 1986: Athanor (which is the oven in which alchemical transformations took place), where Polke made a mural with a hygroscopic painting that, depending on the light and moisture, varied his color from blue to pink. On the floor in front of this wall the artist placed a rock crystal, which had magical powers according to popular beliefs, and a meteorite, considered an “alien” element and a clear reference to astrology.
The exhibition also wants to rediscover the strong bond that Sigmar Polke had with Italy, since the early 80’s, when he visited Pompeii: he was fascinated to the point of starting to use the color purple in some of his works. Then there’s Siena, where he got influenced by Giotto’s frescoes and started to use lapis lazuli also for his paintings. He was particularly impressed by the Duomo’s mosaic pavement which shows the figure of Hermes Trismegistus, believed to be the founder of Western Alchemy and the father of Hermeticism, to which he dedicated a series of four works featured in the exhibition.
Polkes’ interest to the macrocosm, universe, and everything about it, from geometry to astrology, is probably coming from this legend. These issues become even more evident as one approaches the end of the show, where Polke detaches from the human figure, to make way to a “higher” and more “mystical” kind of art; for example through the seven magische and their mathematical, geometrical and astrological connotations.
The themes touched by the artist are so many and varied that every time one enters a room it seems to get into a different show. Probably this is the reason why the editors placed information about the exhibition only at the end of the itinerary: even following a possible path, one would get the same effect; in this way viewers are free to create their own optical – visual and associative path whenever they are faced with a work, unfettered by any other type of trail.
Text by Daniela Lumastro