Alibis: Sigmar Polke, 1963–2010
The Museum of Modern Art has now brought together, in one of the largest shows it has assembled, the most complete overview of Polke’s art that any museum has attempted. It is a remarkable and challenging event. Polke was funnier, brainier, and more ferocious in his need to experiment than, it can seem, many artists are. He was also a nonstop self-educator and a rarity among artists in that he could make his verbal wit an element in purely visual pieces. A delight in this vein is Goethe’s Works (1963), a small, maroon-colored horizontal painting with dark vertical spaces placed regularly, denoting, we realize, the separate volumes (there are five) in the master’s oeuvre. In 1969 the artist topped the joke with Polke’s Collected Works, a longer horizontal rectangle in the same color with more vertical spaces (seventeen volumes).
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