Sigmar Polke (German, born 1941)
Gelatin silver print; 41 1/8 x 53 3/8 in. (104.5 x 135.5 cm)
Purchase, David T. Schiff, Lila Acheson Wallace, Harriette and Noel Levine, and Nancy and Edwin Marks Gifts, 1992 (1992.5154)
One of the most provocative artists of postwar Europe, Sigmar Polke has created works critical of Western culture since 1963, when he and fellow artist Gerhard Richter began using photography as the basis for paintings that satirized the look and message of consumer culture. Since then, Polke has continued to use photography as the breeding ground for innovation. During the 1970s, he painted little but traveled widely with his camera—to Paris, New York, Brazil, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. His subjects were night life, low life, and the underworld—arenas in which life is lived in defiance of established social rules.
The basis of this image is one of a series of negatives exposed in a bar in São Paolo, Brazil, showing a group of men drinking, but Polke considers the darkroom a sort of alchemic laboratory in which he can explore infinite mutations of imagery. With the negative in his enlarger, the artist developed this large sheet selectively, pouring on photographic solutions and repeatedly creasing and folding the wet paper. The resulting abstract organic forms thus issue from and re-create the boozy, convivial energy of the scene.