Sigmar Polke

Palazzo Grassi
17/04 - 06/11/2016


“Sigmar Polke”, curated by Elena Geuna and Guy Tosatto in collaboration with the Estate of Sigmar Polke, marks the 10th anniversary of the reopening of Palazzo Grassi.

In 1986, Sigmar Polke was awarded the Golden Lion at the 42nd Venice Biennale. With Athanor, his project for the German Pavilion, the artist developed techniques and motifs that would become central to his work, and which today, 30 years later constitute the thematic core of the exhibition: alchemic experimentation and political anxiety.

The exhibition at Palazzo Grassi follows a reverse chronological order and opens in the atrium with Axial Age, the artist’s last important pictorial cycle, created between 2005 and 2007. The 90 works on display surveys the eclectic production of the artist from the 2000s to the 1960s. His work intertwines the alchemical and the political, through continuous references to contemporary and ancient history. By bringing together the abstract and the figurative, past and present, the creativity of Sigmar Polke shapes an idiosyncratic, wide-ranging and manifold world.


Free guided tours of the exhibition are organised every Saturday at 3pm. Guided tours are in Italian.
Booking is not required. Access to the guided tour with a valid admission ticket to the museum.

Personalised guided tours in Italian, English, French, Spanish and Italian Sign Language can be organised upon request. >> More information


Sigmar Polke (1941–2010) was born in Silesia, then in East-Germany and now in Poland. In 1953 he moved with his family to West Germany. During his studies at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, he met Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg, with whom he founded ‘Capitalist Realism’, a movement that referred ironically to Socialist Realism, the official art of the Soviet Union and Socialist block. Artistically, Capitalist Realism was strongly influenced by Fluxus and was a response to Pop Art. In his early work, Polke focused on objects symbolic of the German economic miracle, which he depicted as they appeared in adverts rather than in the real world, presenting a critical analysis of American capitalism and its diffusion in Europe. Polke’s works during these years were mainly “Rasterbilder” (paintings that mimic printing): Polke appropriated publicity images from newspapers and magazines, enlarging them and hand painting them onto a canvas, dot by dot, creating an abstract pattern. Over the following years, his interest in pattern led him to use printed fabrics and industrial decorative processes as painting grounds. The 1970s was a decade personal adventure and experimentation for him, which resulted in increasingly iconoclastic and abstract work. A long journey in Asia and Oceania in 1980 and 1981 launched a new period for the artist: like a modern-day alchemist, he engaged in conscious experimentation with pigments, chemical compounds and solvents. He synthesized his previous research, going beyond traditional pictorial limitations to give his work a mystical and solid dimension. Sigmar Polke died in 2010 in Cologne.

After his first large retrospective at the Kunsthalle in Tübingen in 1976, the Kunsthaus in Zurich in 1984, the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1988 and the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn in 1997, three important monographic exhibitions were dedicated to Polke. Among his most important posthumous exhibitions were “Sigmar Polke” at the Musée de Grenoble in 2013 and “Alibis: Sigmar Polke, 1963–2010” at MOMA in New York, Tate Modern in London and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in 2014.




The exhibition catalogue is published by Marsilio Editori. Graphic design by Leonardo Sonnoli, Tassinari/Vetta.

It brings together texts by Bice Curiger, Thomas Elsaesser, Elena Geuna, Erik Verhagen and Guy Tosatto.

264 pages
1 edition in 3 languages (Italian, English, French)

Exhibition guide

Sigmar Polke