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Potato House (Kartoffelhaus)

Sigmar Polke

Potato House (Kartoffelhaus)

Sigmar Polke
  • Date: 1967
  • Style: Conceptual Art
  • Genre: illustration

Best known for his experiments in painting and photography, Polke also created several sculptures and installations throughout his career. One of these is Potato House, a lattice structure studded with real potatoes. This installation plays with the visual tropes of Minimalism, which frequently made use of cubes, grids, and reductive representations of shelters. However, Polke adds an organic element usually missing from Minimalist works, using his ornamental potatoes to poke fun at the movement's sobriety.

Potatoes make an appearance in multiple works by Polke, like Apparatus Whereby One Potato Can Orbit Another (1969) or Potato Drawing (1966-1970). In postwar Germany, potatoes were a staple in the diets of most people and were emblematic of the drab, devastated country in the war's aftermath. In this work, the potato structure can be seen either as sheltering or caging the viewer, who is invited to step inside. By entering the work, the viewer becomes an insider engaged in actively transforming the meaning of the piece, including challenging conventional prohibitions concerning the propriety of actually touching art.

Potato House raises an interesting curatorial issue. Being organic and perishable, potatoes must be provided by each museum that chooses to exhibit the work. They must also be replaced before they begin to sprout, shrivel, or rot. Polke was notoriously disdainful of the institutional nature of museums, and this work functions as a challenge to both curators and museum-goers. In a sense, this work is not unlike the traditional vanitas images in which food and flowers, for instance, seem to be spoiling and wilting before our eyes, reminding us of how fleeting life is.

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