The exhibition “Sigmar Polke” at Palazzo Grassi follows a reverse chronological order, thus opening with Axial Age, the artist’s last important pictorial cycle, created between 2005 and 2007. Presented for the first time at the 52nd Venice Biennale and already exhibited in 2009 and 2011 at Punta della Dogana in the exhibitions “Mapping the studio” and “In Praise of Doubt,” Axial Age refers to the “axial period” described by the philosopher Karl Jaspers in his 1949 work Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (The Origin and Goal of History). Jaspers believed that the period from 800 to 200 B.C. was a historic era of extraordinary intellectual vitality across the main territories of civilization: Greece and the near East, India and China. The seven Axial Age paintings present many of Polke’s characteristic artistic traits: the refusal to adhere to a single visual language; the use of the canvas as a translucent screen that subverts the pictorial rules of frontality; the use of light to create a temporary perception field; the passion for alchemic symbolism; the use of techniques and processes from the past; the appropriation of iconographic fragments from other historic contexts; the desire to take materials beyond their traditional function, reversing themselves on the canvas, thus questioning certain conventions of representation.
With the explosion of violet pigments, which are simultaneously dark and luminous, Polke transforms the conventional parameters of vision: he wanted to force viewers to concentrate on the object and distance themselves from the context, as under hypnosis.