Sunday, 8 February 2015

Sigmar Polke at the Tate Modern

I finally got round to seeing the rather large Sigmar Polke exhibition at the Tate Modern, once again, on  the closing weekend. I really must do better. It's a very big exhibition as well, full of paintings, installations and projected films (usually of the hippy triply variety with shaky had-held camera). I rushed over to the Tate Modern after work on Friday and walked over Blackfriars Bridge that doubles as the railway station and there's the Tate Modern waiting for me. And Sigmar.

So. Sigmar Polke. I know nothing about him and had never heard of him until this exhibition was announced. Wiki tells us that he was born on 13 February 1941 in Poland and, eventually, grew up in West Germany in the 1950s. This exhibition covers the vast body of his works and styles between 1963 and his death in 2010, or another way of looking at it is, his works during my (approximate) lifetime.

He experimented with photography and, later, with what might loosely be called painting. Some of his earlier works looked almost like they'd been photo-shopped before photo-shopping was invented. Paint in various combinations on a printed image to see what that creates and some of the works were quite spectacular. His installations were less so, and just made me think that I'd seen them before in a different guise but the majority of items were hanging on walls and that worked for me. I also looked at a  couple of his video-films projected in side galleries but soon gave up on them. What was I meant to see?

The first massive painting that forced me to look at it was a portrait of Mao from the early 70s - I glimpsed it through a door to another gallery just after I'd entered the preceding gallery so I whizzed round that gallery to see the painting that called to me. For some odd reason Chairman Mao is inextricably linked with John and Yoko Ono Lennon and his song 'Revolution' with the Beatles and Yoko's 'We're All Water' from 'Sometime in New York City'. Odd, I know, but I can't help it. And here was a giant painting of Mao - or is it really about Mao at all?

It's huge and is a lot redder that this image looks with the giant head of Mao surrounded by little pictures of 1950s-style women and more. It fills a whole wall so it's difficult to get the full impact from this poor reproduction. But it also made me wonder why artists produce such huge pieces of art that can only be displayed in a gallery or in the houses of the rich. It's far too big to fit in my house or yours so where is the egalitarian art? The Paul Klee exhibition last year was full of living-room sized paintings and I think I'd rather have one of his complex, meditative pieces hanging on my walls.

A bit further into the exhibition (and it felt like it was going on forever) were a couple of paintings using Superman as the focus and I quite liked this one which was titled 'Supermarkets!'. There are lots of superimposed cartoon images of Superman bottom centre. It has all the energy and pace of a cartoon Superman and a crash-bang-whallop feel to it. It was another huge wall-filler but it was fun!

This is another exhibition that would probably be best seen at a repeat visit, see it when it opens and then later in the run after I've had time to mull it over it and get a clearer picture of what I want to see in it. But should that be necessary? Some art you have to work at and others reach levels of love through osmosis. Last years' three biggies - Klee, Matisse and Mondrian - didn't have to try too hard to make me love them so I suspect I've been spoiled. O well.

One of the funnest pieces (if that's a word) was 'Polke as Astronaut' hung quite high so we all had to look upwards at it. Again, I'm not sure why, but like the Mao painting this called to me across the gallery and I obeyed. A daft face in a green space with astronauts doing spacewalks. What more could one ask? The next time Mr Polke visits London I'll be better prepared to see him.

No comments: