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Sigmar Polke


Sigmar Polke
  • Date: 1966
  • Style: New European Painting
  • Genre: figurative

Polke's early painting, Bunnies, is an example of the artist's ability to distance the viewers while immersing them within the imagery simultaneously. The artwork may have been based on an advertisement for membership in Hugh Hefner's Playboy Clubs. The first of these clubs opened in 1960, and the original image would have functioned as more than just a photograph of beautiful women meant to evoke physical desire; it was also a compelling portrayal of a lifestyle that could be purchased. Polke dissolves these sex symbols into clusters of dots and streaks, exposing the image's seductive illusion. Polke frustrates the viewer's desire by emphasizing the materiality of the image at the expense of the clarity and individuality of the women.

Bunnies is composed using a dot technique that characterizes several of his paintings completed in the mid-1960s. The technique is a clear reference to the famous dot paintings by Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein. However, Polke's dots are exaggerated and enlarged for impact. While Lichtenstein's works use dots to delineate and simplify a composition, Polke's dots function to distort and obscure his subjects. Polke's dot technique is known as Rasterbilder, referring to a method of dot printing using a raster screen. Eternally interested in processes of production and reproduction, Polke destabilizes the usually reliable printing process by introducing irregularly sized dots and additional colors.

In this work, Polke is playing with the audience's usual reactions to such images. Magazines such as Playboy present women as physically appealing sexual objects, enticing the viewer to look closer at high-definition photographs in portable formats. By placing his large image (59 x 39.5 inches) on the wall of a gallery and drawing the viewer in to scrutinize the women's bodies in the public space of the museum, Polke makes the viewer feel uncomfortable and forces them to confront their habitual modes of viewing.

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