Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 is the first comprehensive Sigmar Polke retrospective to cover the broad range of mediums he worked in from 1963 until his death in 2010. The accompanying catalogue is as comprehensive and diverse as the show, with brilliant reproductions of his film works, photography, painting, sculpture, drawings and prints. Designed by Joseph Logan, its cover is made of pleather printed with snakeskin in honor of Polke’s fondness for the pattern.
Grouping and labels are our solutions for understanding, for making the world small enough to digest. The same way we mount butterflies and bugs in shadowboxes and label them according to science; we put artists within movements and schemes and label them in agreement with art history. Polke consistently challenged this instinct with his work. He was furiously experimental throughout his life and as a result, his work always sidestepped easy categorization.
Kathy Halbreich, who organized the show with Mark Godfrey and Lanka Tattersall, explores Polke’s constant questioning of any one truth in her introductory essay in the book. She writes: “Polke drew ghosts and wanted to believe in the paranormal; art hinted at how to resist the gravitational pull of the known and accepted.”
When his work approached categorization he transformed it, baffling his skip tracers: the scholars, critics, fans, and journalists looking for a story, dealers and collectors looking for consistency. It wasn’t for lack of skill; John Baldessari said of Polke’s work: “Any one move can provide a career for a lesser artist.” Part of Polke’s method was embracing the unknown. He saw it as freedom.
There are 16 essays in the book, four covering broad themes and 12 on specific works or features of Polke’s practice. The authors range from Polke scholars to practicing artists and include Paul Chan, Christophe Cherix, Tacita Dean, Barbara Engelbach, Mark Godfrey, Stefan Gronert, Kathy Halbreich, Rachel Jans, John Kelsey, Jutta Koether, Christine Mehring, Matthias Mühling, Marcelle Polednik, Christian Rattemeyer, Magnus Schaefer, and Lanka Tattersall. The book opens with an extensive chronology by Kathrin Rottmann, which traces the cultural, historic, and political contexts of Polke’s work. In an interview with the show’s organizers, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh discusses Polke’s first retrospective, organized by Buchloh in 1976. The catalogue also includes a bibliography compiled by Erhard Klein.
Preview a free sample of the book here.
Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 is on view now until August 3, 2014 on the second floor in the Contemporary Galleries, The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, and The Yoshiko and Akio Morita Media Gallery.