Bernstein Sigmar Polke Amber = Gallery Exhibition + Kunstkammer + Book

TSU, 115 - 17.35-18.00

Sigmar Polke (19-2010) never ceased to experiment and surprise. Widely regarded as one of the most influential arts of the postwar generation, in Germany and internationally. In November 2006, Galerie Michael Werner, New York, surprised the art world with the first gallery exhibition of Sigmar Polke’s work in a decade. Here was a body of work no one knew about—large canvases colored and translucent like Bernstein/amber, some with figures, some abstract. Hung on royal purple walls, the works were intermixed with displays of raw pieces of the 60 million-year-old ancient tree resin and 16-17th century precious objects, sacred and profane, carved from the material. A modern Wunderkammer+Kunstkammer. Once inside, visitors understood the advertised phrase, “organized in cooperation with Kunstkammer Georg Laue, München.” Accompanying the show was a tome offered for sale. Its size, cloth cover, and gold printed title alluded to a prewar Atlas but inside was something else: an essay in schoolbook font on the geological material, not on Polke, by today’s presenter interleaved with a series of interpretive photographs of the objects and reproductions of Polke’s Bernstein/Amber works. (“Man darf das Buch nicht nach seinem Umschlag urteilen” “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”) In this paper, I will discuss the project and my collaboration. Polke possessed an exceptional curiosity and wit, that joined with his exceptional grasp of his materials, pushed him to experiment freely with the conventions of art and art history. This paper focuses on this innovative oeuvre, exhibition, and book as a manifestation of Polke’s fascination with nature’s art, Bernstein, associated with Germania since Tacitus, and the artist’s querying of all German social, political, and artistic traditions and the country’s transformation in the postwar period.