YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections
(Page 3 of 3)

ART : Sigmar Polke's Layered Look : The photographs of the influential German are hard to pin down--as is the artist himself.

December 03, 1995|Kristine McKenna | Kristine McKenna is a frequent contributor to Calendar

The '80s saw Polke's photographic works moving in an increasingly abstract direction. Included in this period of work is a series of images exploring Francisco Goya's 1812 painting "The Old Women," which interested Polke because of what Goya chose to omit from it (X-rays reveal that Goya's original sketch included an image of the Resurrection of Christ that the artist subsequently painted out). Other works from this period include references to French visionary Antonin Artaud and Italian composer Nicolo Paganini.

Much of this work was included in a 1990 exhibition in Baden-Baden that was the first to take an in-depth look at Polke's photography. Schimmel's show picks up where that one left off by including several previously unexhibited works, among them a series titled "Aachener Strasse," completed this year in collaboration with Augustina von Nagel. A suite of 35 prints that combine street photography with images from Polke's paintings, the works were developed using techniques of multiple exposures and multiple negatives.

"Augustina's a very good artist whom I've worked with for six years," says Polke. "She helped me with the technical aspects of the exhibition in Baden-Baden, but with this series she participated on an artistic level, too. Having worked this way together, I could easily imagine collaborating with her on paintings as well."

Asked if his photographs explore markedly different ideas than those addressed in his paintings, Polke sighs before replying that "a question like that provokes many answers, but language is not as quick as the imagination. By making pictures, you learn the many different properties of photography. I use those properties differently than, say, an advertising agency would, but we're both operating in the same reality. A face painted by Picasso occupies the same reality as a portrait by Stieglitz. So, no, I don't see a big difference between painting and photography--moreover, such distinctions mean nothing to me."

As to whether art has any responsibility to the culture that produces it, Polke looks aghast at the idea, then exclaims, "People expect things from art that are horrible for us who make it! They put the things we make in these restrictive places called museums, then don't want to hear another word from us. Joseph Beuys tried to find some solutions for society, but nobody believed in him. Yes, Beuys has been enshrined in museums around the world, but the things he really wanted to do and the changes he dreamed of amounted to nothing. I feel I have no responsibility toward Western civilization of the late 20th Century because nobody consulted me about any of the things taking place in it.'

"Yes, my works too are enshrined in museums, but I don't care if the pieces fall apart in 20 years," he adds. "And as for art history--I tear the pages out of the history books and throw them away!" With that he jumps up from his chair, signaling that the interview is over.

* "When Pictures Vanish," Museum of Contemporary Art at California Plaza, 250 S. Grand Ave. Open Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursdays, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. Through March 24. Adults, $6; senior citizens and students, $4. (213) 626-6222.

Los Angeles Times Articles