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Sigmar Polke, untitled, 1970-80. © Georg Polke – VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018.

Unseen documents of “being present” / alchemically tinged “lens flirts”: the exhibition Sigmar Polke. Photographs 70-80 presents an extensive ensemble of as yet unpublished photographs. The more than 500 photographs which Sigmar Polke took in the 1970s reveal him to be a transformation artist with experimental leanings and an alchemist of the dark room. These photographs, most of which are being exhibited for the first time, belong to Georg Polke and show Sigmar Polke as one of the protagonists of the Rhineland art scene and at the same time a shrewd chronicler of his time with a very particular sense of humour.

The camera was his constant companion. Polke was constantly in search of fleeting phenomena. In numerous photographs the artist focussed on his personal environment: at home, initially in Dusseldorf, then as of 1972 in the Gaspelshof in Willich, later in Cologne, at exhibition openings and during his travels. These constitute “incredible documents of being present,” testifying to joie de vivre and empathy, attentive open-mindedness and the presence of the photographer. Polke’s “lens flirts” are legendary; during meetings with artist friends and companions his camera passed “like a ball around the circle,” and the artist himself also made an appearance “as a deviously humorous model” (Bice Curiger).

Often Polke’s photographs are taken deliberately “improperly,” are intentionally blurred or over exposed. That anarchic material then served him as a basis for multifaceted manipulations undertaken in his laboratory, where he used multi-exposure, reverse effects, superimpositions or solarisation. In the course of that process chance phenomena were always welcome. The result are images that humorously fracture the everyday and grant the trivial a mysterious aura.

With his experimental processing—or “expeditions into the unknown realms of photo-chemistry”—Polke tried out a whole different reading of the medium of photography. He invented artful errors that heighten the atmospheric intensity and painterly richness of the photographic prints. With a slight of hand, Polke glossed over the borders between photography and painting, original and reproduction. In this exhibition we will be placing several graphic works made on the basis of photographs from the same time in a dialogue with one another. They indicate how closely Polke linked the different artistic media, how they mutually pervade and enrich one another in his oeuvre. A special room and a chronological excursion into the 1980s are dedicated to a large group of photocopies in which Polke processed his own contribution to the 1986 Venice Biennale, at which he won the Golden Lion.

A publication will accompany the exhibition in which a selection of the photographs will be published for the first time; along with an introductory foreword by Fritz Emslander and an essay by Bice Curiger (available as of mid-June to September 2 at the Museum; approx. 120 pages)

Curators of the exhibition are Georg Polke and Fritz Emslander.


Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen
Gustav-Heinemann-Strasse 80
D-51377 Leverkusen | Germany



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