Sigmar Polke. Watchtower. 1984

Sigmar Polke Watchtower 1984

  • Not on view

The high scaffold in Watchtower could be a hunters’ blind but also whispers of the guards’ post—perhaps on the East-West border within a still-divided Germany, perhaps on a concentration-camp fence. Polke stenciled this skeletal frame in a series of paintings begun in 1984, varying the imagery around it. Here, he clothes the watchtower in a baleful phosphorescent glow, which sends up a hollow arm to catch the tower’s top.

In the 1960s Polke had produced what he called “Capitalist Realism,” a German variant of Pop art. An element of Pop survives in Watchtower’s support, made of commercial yard goods printed, respectively, with a cheerful floral and with a weave or mesh. Refusing consistency, however, Polke combines these with both the sinister tower image and an abstraction (which, with its alternately smooth and spidery lines, suggests more than one painting process). Images and styles from different eras, and associated with different moods and intentions, jostle and layer in the same work—a “postmodern” approach that Polke pioneered, and that a variety of artists explored in the 1980s.

Visual layering brings a layering of sense. In Watchtower, painted and printed images compete for visibility; if the watchtower is haunted and haunting, the prints connote a banal dailiness. It is as though different registers of consciousness and of memory were struggling for resolution.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 306.
Acrylic paints and dry pigment on patterned fabric
9' 10" x 7' 4 1/2" (300 x 224.8 cm)
Fractional and promised gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder
Object number
© 2020 Estate of Sigmar Polke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or, please email If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to