Sigmar Polke at MoMA
Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Creating art, much like life, is also a journey. In advance of the Museum of Modern Art’s show, “Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010,” the artist’s work Dschungel(Jungle) sold for over $9 million. For some, this might suggest that Emerson was wrong.
But not Polke.
The artist’s career, spanning nearly 50 years, was a journey well reflected in his art. His many mediums, styles, and subjects allowed him to defy classification, but his work tells the story of an artist’s evolving perception of the world. The artist documented the transformation of his world- from the rebuilding of West Germany past the new millennium-through his lens of experimental art-making.
MoMA attempts to cover all of Polke, and there is a lot of Polke to cover. The expansive show features over 250 works, organized by chronologically. This approach intensifies the personal feeling of the show, as viewers mentally tie the phases of Polke’s artistic life to periods in their own lives or even world events.
The Higher Powers Command: Paint the Upper Right Corner Black!, a minimalist yet commentary laden piece, may be overlooked in the same space gallery space as pieces covered in vibrant, patterned fabrics and study-like pieces focusing on color and line. But this dichotomy perhaps reflects many people’s experiences as a young person, fresh out of school, as Polke was during this period. Those formative years are for many a time to observe popular and political culture, respond to one’s formal and colloquial education, and look to the future. Often this leads to a combination of seriousness and a tongue-in-cheek look at life.
By experiencing Polke’s life through the different styles, subjects and expressions of his art, ultimately, one sees that his artistic journey mirrors most of life’s journeys. There are ups and downs, surprising triumphs moments, times of foundered efforts, new directions, and lasting nostalgia.
For artists of all kinds, Polke’s process is a reminder that although our work may be the product -for many of us our livelihood- our journey of writing, composing, painting, and all forms of art-making, is a personal experience. We should feel free to shake up our routine, push ourselves to new creative frontiers, and never fall to pressures to follow the beaten path.
Even if the product isn’t as profitable as Polke’s, the journey is always the most rewarding result.