Polke/Richter, Richter/Polke at Christie’s Mayfair

Filed in Reviews by on June 27, 2014

Polke/Richter, Richter/Polke

Christie’s Mayfair

Until 7 July

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Our only introduction to this exhibition is a quote from Gerhard Richter that details the close, yet tough nature of the friendship between himself and Sigmar Polke, and the different paths their artwork came to take, noting that ‘Polke drifted away into the psychedelic direction and I into the classical.’ With their work showing side by side, we follow the chronological development of the two artists’ work, identifying the influences that were shared, and the points at which ideas and the ways of exploring the physicality of paint begin to diverge.

Both Polke and Richter had been raised in the shadows of censorship and stifling regimes. In moving from East to West Germany both were able to use painting to question the truth of images, to undermine the credibility of visual information being distributed. The first couple of rooms introduce us to Polke’s signature dots, where newspaper headlines and photographs are broken down into specks of black, most notably in Don Quichotte of 1968, where any facial recognition has been reduced to about eight abstract shapes. We see Richter’s blur. Highly realistic paintings smudged with the brush. Both artists deny the detail and clarity of the image with their own respective methods, introducing us to questions of distorted realities, of truths being masked.

Polke and Richter use their own techniques to replicate methods of mechanical reproduction with paint, mimicking printing presses, or photographic imagery. Indeed, the manners in which paint is handled takes centre stage in this exhibition, as we see the transition from the delicacies of realism to bolder abstract tendencies. Following the monochrome introduction, the third room introduces us to a frenzied explosion of colour. Alongside Richter’s rural scenes, sits another rural scene entitled ‘Baumgruppe’ that has been smudged over with a muddied and a bright green, stutters of paint visible from where it has been pulled across the surface. Polke’s work introduces brighter colours and splashes on top of printed fabric.

The rest of the exhibition continues in this manner. Colour, mark making, pushing paint to the limit. Polke and Richter continue to explore the possibilities of paint, but the work shows that they explored in different ways. The ‘psychedelic’ tendencies of Polke are met in his experimental approach, you sense there is a complete abandon in the way he brought different materials together. Canvases coated in resins, with other colours spread on top, or beneath. Furious graphite marks from pencils on top of paint, shiny marks like little silverfish resonate on the surface. Only close investigation reveals pearlescent brush strokes, and hints of metallic. His dots appear in smaller sections, or have been exaggerated.

Polke’s painterly alchemy sits against Richter’s more restrained steps towards the abstract. You get the sense it is more controlled, wilder colours yes, but the marks made are more considered, paint is pulled and dragged across the surface with a squeegee, it bleeds and is scraped. Marks seem slower and more deliberate. Sitting together, the works lend themselves to each other, exposing their strengths and differences. Their last joint show was in Hanover in 1966. Following more than a fifty year absence with their works sitting side by side, now is as good as any a time to look again at the influence that these two artists had on the painterly medium, with this show highlighting the expanse of their ideas and their ability to manipulate paint.

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Ann-Marie Rayney

About the Author ()

Ann-Marie Rayney is a printmaker based in London. Recently graduated from Goldsmiths with a Fine Art and Art History degree, she will most likely be found exploring London's cultural offerings or covered in ink at Sonsoles Print Studio in Peckham. To see some of her work, have a sneaky peak at her website here. http://cargocollective.com/annmarierayney

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