Sigmar Polke's Provincialism

Sigmar Polke, Raster Drawing (Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald), 1963, poster paint
Sigmar Polke, Raster Drawing (Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald), 1963 (Private Collection, photo: Wolfgang Morell, Bonn, © 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn)

John Goodrich reviews the exhibition Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 at MoMA, New York, on view through August 3, 2014.

Goodrich writes: "Museumgoers will debate Polke’s achievement. Does it represent a savvy assessment of — and a necessary alienation from — the zeitgeist of postwar Germany, and contemporary western culture in general? There’s no doubt that there’s something striking at the core of his lifework. It resonates with a peculiar, plangent disaffection. It bristles, tirelessly, with pointed references — the points so multiplied and layered that the viewer is carried along by the drift of his caustic eye. And it’s certainly the kind of art that suits a postmodern era favoring conceptual vitality over pictorial rigor. Or, does Polke’s lifework reflect an ignorance of deeper possibilities of art? The vast visual evidence of Alibis encourages one to believe that Polke was an artist quite uninterested in how someone like Goya surpassed his imitators, or how Piet Mondrian or Schwitters transcended their contemporaries — and how a discipline unique to art connects their spirits. By long-term standards, Polke comes off as a brilliant, renegade graphic artist at furious play. His observations may be bitingly original, but his expectations of art low, as if he considered it no more than a Rorschach test, an artisanal launching point for cerebral adventures."