Photographs 1969-1974.
Photographs by Sigmar Polke. Edited by Tim Nye. Essay by Mariette Althaus.
Foundation 20 21, New York, 2006. 73 pp., 37 tritone illustrations, 9¾x12½".
About the Ltd Edition
Sigmar Polke is an icon of contemporary art, with the reputation of an art world maverick. His paintings are experimental and provocative. In a classic tabloid moment, Mariette Althaus, Polke's girlfriend from early in his career, has just released some of his photographs from 1969–74. As a society we make pilgrimages—to Giverny, Ghost Ranch, Jim Morrison's grave or anywhere else that connects us with a famous and admired artist. This latest offering on Polke is an interesting addition to the genre of "historical finds."
Thirty-two tritone images on heavy paper are housed in a nondescript, cardboard box. When you open the box you enter the world of early '60s Polke. The fascinating photos, which are arguably the worst of the snapshot variety and are all black-and-white experimentalism, still carry the excitement and energy of the artist at a pivotal time in his career. There are four consecutive images of Mariette, some more overexposed than others, but with no notable variation. Polke was fascinated by the infinite possibilities in the making of the photograph, whether it was through chemical experimentation, creasing or otherwise unpacking and exposing the codes and structures of image making. These photos embody youth (Mariette and Sigmar nude with flowers on their bodies), a period of growing success for Polke (Mariette holding a huge handful of bills) and an unrestrained society.
The photographs span five years of Polke's career, and even in the constraints of a cardboard box Polke refuses to be categorized. His irreverent photography exudes spontaneity. Mariette Althaus's essay reminisces on these photographs as an experimental period when convention was consciously spurned. One may question her motives in releasing the photos, but ultimately we are happy that she did. It is as good as finding a stranger's photos in the attic, only much better for they are Polke's.-SHEILAH WILSON
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