Venice Biennale

The “Sigmar Polke” exhibition at Palazzo Grassi marks the thirtieth anniversary of Polke winning the Golden Lion at the 42nd Venice Biennale in 1986. That year, he transformed the Pavilion of the Federal Republic of Germany into a setting where a series of metamorphoses took place. The project was called Athanor, a term borrowed from the world of alchemy, referring to the furnace in which alchemical changes happen. In the pavilion’s central apse, Polke painted a mural with a water-soluble colour made of cobalt chloride, which changes from blue to pink according to the humidity and light. On the floor, he placed a meteorite, an extraterrestrial material believed to have magic powers. On the walls he hung the Schleifenbilder, canvases which made use of the photochemical process and manganese, and the Spiegebilde, large-scale paintings made with enamel and gold leaf. In the pavilion, Polke installed then a series of raster paintings, among them Amerikanisch-Mexikanische Grenze, Polizeischwein, Hände (vorm Gesicht), which present news stories through images taken from the press. With Athanor, Polke developed techniques and motifs that would become central to his later work, and which today constitute the thematic core of the Palazzo Grassi exhibition: alchemic experimentation and political concern.