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Basic Data

Together with his companion Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke is considered to be the most important artist of the contemporary. 


Childhood and education

Sigmar Polke was born on 13 February 1941 in Oels, Lower Silesia. After the end of the war, the family fled to Thuringia, from where they left for the Federal Republic of Germany, at first to West Berlin and, eventually, to Dusseldorf. From 1959 to 1961, Polke trained as stained-glass artist in Dusseldorf-Kaiserswerth. In the following year, he took up his studies under Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Hoehme and Karl Otto Goetz at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, which he completed in 1967. During the early 1960s, starting with his first raster drawing (Lee Harvey Oswald), he created his first raster images. Polke used images from news magazines that were printed in simple halftone and consisted of dots for his by now iconic raster images. He then transferred the dots that he had previously enlarged in a nearly pointillistic style on canvas, but put new spots in the image and thus manipulated the journalistic statement of the original photograph. Simultaneously, an ironic reference to famous American contemporaries' screen prints was formed, such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg.


Capitalist Realism and cooperation with Gerhard Richter

At the same time, Polke and his fellow students Gerhard Richter, Mandfred Kuttner and Konrad Lueg originated the School of Capitalist Realism, an artistic community that behaved as critically towards Socialistic Realismof the East as towards the pop culture of the West and thus tried to unveil the ideology behind the two systems. The community started with the conception and realisation of Leben mit Pop - eine Demonstration für den Kaptalistischen Realismus. The three artists hosted their first Demonstrative Ausstellung (demonstrative exhibition) at Kaiserstraße 31A in Dusseldorf. The artist group was characterised by an ironic dealing with products of the everyday consumer world and the critical use of everyday clichés of the Biedermeier-like post-war society of the Adenauer era. The appreciatively satirised Capitalist Realism on the other side of the wall whose doctrine they could escape from by relocating to the West. Wit, irony and ambiguity have been characteristic for Polke's artworks since these early years. In his artworks he monumentally draws attention to trivial objects such as socks, sausages or pledges from travel brochures. In 1966, Polke received the Kunstpreis der Jugend and opened his first solo exhibition.


Later years and independent artist

From 1970 to 1971, Polke was a visiting professor and, eventually, full professor with the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg from 1977 to 1991. In Hamburg, Polke lived and worked at the Willicher Gaspelshof, some kind of artist commune, at which many of Polke's friends were guests again and again. Polke relocated back to Cologne, where he lived and worked until he died, in 1978. During the 1970s and 80s, the artist travelled around the whole world, which lead him to Australia, Afghanistan, South-East Asia and Papua New Guinea. The camera gained more and more importance for his oeuvre over the course of his travel activity. A more and more experimental character prevailed in photography as well as painting, which included coincidence and autonomous chemical processes into his oeuvre.

During the late 1970s and the early 1980s, Polke took part in important exhibitions of contemporary art in West Germany regularly. In 1972, 1977 and 1982, Polke participated in documenta 5 to 7. Polke's artworks were displayed at the exhibitions Zeitgeist (1982) and Von hier aus – Zwei Monate neue deutsche Kunst (1984) in Dusseldorf. A highlight of his artistic career was the participation in the Biennale in Venice in 1986. He exhibited thermosensitive images that gleamed in different colours depending on the temperature of the day in the German pavilion. He was given the Golden Lion for the best artistic performance for this artwork.

A comprehensive retrospective regarding Polke's oeuvre took place at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik (art gallery and exhibition hall of the Federal Republic of Germany) in Bonn and at the Galerie der Gegenwart, Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin in 1977. Polke received his first public assignment almost ten years later in 2006.  He renewed the glass windows at the Grossmünster in Zurich and was able to go back to the roots of being a stained-glass artist in this way. The five glass and eight agate windows were finished in November 2009.

Sigmar Polke was no public person. The more he turned into a star of the international art world, the more he shut himself away from the public in order to primarily communicate with the viewer through his artwork.




Current exhibitions

  • 13.11.2021 – 06.02.2022 Produktive Bildstörung. Sigmar Polke und aktuelle künstlerische Positionen – Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
  • 04.09.2021 – 21.11.2021 Die relative Vermessung der Welt. – Kunstsammlung Jena
  • 15.07.2021 – 19.01.2022 Mensch, der / Körper, der, die , das – Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg
  • 19.06.2021 – 18.04.2022 Enjoy - The mumok Collection in Change – Museum Moderne Kunst Stiftung Ludwig (MUMOK)
  • 19.05.2021 – 31.01.2022 Presentation of the contemporary collection – Centre Pompidou, Paris.  

Past exhibitions

Solo exhibitions

  • 2019 SIGMAR POLKE. Objects: Real and Imagined - Michael Werner Gallery, New York City
  • 2018 SIGMAR POLKE UND DIE 1970ER JAHRE - Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen
  • 2018 Sigmar Polke. Fotografien 70 – 80 - Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen
  • 2017 Sigmar Polke - Die Editionen - me Collectors Room Berlin
  • 2017 SIGMAR POLKE - ALCHEMIE UND ARABESKE - Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
  • 2017 SIGMAR POLKE. Pour Paintings on Paper - Michael Werner Gallery, London MAYFAIR
  • 2016 Sigmar Polke. Eine Winterreise - David Zwirner - New York City
  • 2016 Sigmar Polke - Palazzo Grassi, Venice
  • 2014/15 Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 - Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Museum Ludwig, Cologne
  • 2011 Sigmar Polke. Eine Hommage - Akademie der Künste, Berlin
  • 2010 Hommage an Sigmar Polke - Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
  • 2009 Lens Painting - Michael Werner Gallery, New York City
  • 2007 Retrospektive 1963-2005 – Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden;  Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna
  • 2005 Werke und Tage - Kunsthaus, Zurich
  • 2003 Sigmar Polke. Original und Fälschung - Rupertinum, Salzburg
  • 2002 Paintings and Drawings - Tate Modern, London
  • 2001 Sigmar Polke. Alchimist - Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo
  • 2001 Retrospektive - Abbendum Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk
  • 2000 Kaiserring, Mönchehausmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Goslar
  • 2000 Werke aus der Sammlung Fröhlich - Museum für Moderne Kunst, Karlruhe
  • 1999 Works on Paper - Museum of Modern Art, New York City
  • 1998 Druckfehler 1996-98 - Michael Werner Gallery, New York City
  • 1997 Die drei Lügen der Malerei - Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
  • 1996 Transit - Staatliches Museum Schwerin
  • 1995 Photoworks: when pictures vanish - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
  • 1994 Laterna Magica - Portikus, Frankfurt am Main
  • 1994 IVAM Centre Julio González, Valencia
  • 1993 Gemeinschaftswerk Aufschwung Ost - Bruno Brunnet Fine Arts, Berlin
  • 1992 Sigmar Polke - Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
  • 1990 Fotografien - Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden
  • 1988 Sigmar Polke - Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville Paris
  • 1986 Athanor - 42. Biennale di Venezia
  • 1986 Titel gibt’s nicht - Galerie Schmela Dusseldorf
  • 1984 Sigmar Polke - Kunsthaus, Zurich
  • 1984 Galerie Klein, Bonn
  • 1983 Sigmar Polke - Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam
  • 1982 Sigmar Polke. Works 1972-1981 - Holly Solomon Gallery, New York City
  • 1981 Sie fliegen wieder – Galerie Toni Gerber, Bern
  • 1979 Galerie Bama, Paris
  • 1978 InK Halle für internationale neue Kunst, Zurich
  • 1976 Bilder-Tücher-Objekte - Kunsthalle Tübingen; Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
  • 1975 Mu Nieltam Netorruprup - Kunsthalle Kiel; Schleswig-Holsteinischer Kunstverein, Kiel
  • 1974 Hallo Shiva - Galerie Toni Gerber/Bea Hegnauer, Zurich
  • 1972 Galerie im Goethe-Institut, Provisorium, Amsterdam
  • 1970 Galerie Konrad Fischer, Dusseldorf
  • 1970 Bilder - Galerie Michael Werner, Cologne
  • 1969 Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
  • 1967 Sigmar Polke. Zeichnungen und Ölbilder - Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich
  • 1966 Sigmar Polke – Galerie René Block, Berlin


Group exhibitions

  • 2020 1:1 – Begegnung mit Originalen aus der Sammlung – Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen
  • 2020 Pop on Paper. Von Warhol bis Lichtenstein – Kulturforum Berlin/ Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
  • 2020 Forever Young – Museum Brandhorst, Munich
  • 2020 (Un)endliche Ressourcen? Künstlerische Positionen seit 1980 – Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe
  • 2020 Photography’s Last Century – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • 2020 Das Gedächtnis der Bilder – Kunstmuseen Krefeld 
  • 2020 Moving Energies – 10 years me Collectors Room Berlin - me Collectors Room Berlin
  • 2019 GROSSE REALISTIK & GROSSE ABSTRAKTION - Städel Museum, Frankfurt
  • 2019 Im Licht der Nacht – Vom Leben im Halbdunkel - MARTa Herford
  • 2019 BASELITZ, RICHTER, POLKE und KIEFER - Deichtorhallen Hamburg & Sammlung Falckenberg
  • 2019 Die jungen Jahre der Alten Meister: Baselitz - Richter - Polke – Kiefer - Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
  • 2018 Flashes of the Future. Die Kunst der 68er oder Die Macht der Ohnmächtigen - Ludwig Forum, Aachen
  • 2017 Künstlerbücher. Die Sammlung - Hamburger Kunsthalle
  • 2017 Fabienne Verdier meets Sigmar Polke. Talking Lines. - Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich
  • 2017 As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics - Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
  • 2016 Kunst in Europa 1945–1968 - ZKM | Karlsruhe
  • 2016 An Imagined Museum. Works from the Centre Pompidou, Tate and MMK collections- Centre Pompidou-Metz
  • 2016 Zeichnungsräume - Hamburger Kunsthalle
  • 2016 Sigmar Polke – Gerhard Richter. Schöne Bescherung - Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen
  • 2016 Illumination - Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk
  • 2016 International Pop - Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • 2015 KUNST FÜR ALLE. Multiples, Grafiken, Aktionen aus der Sammlung Staeck - Akademie der Künste, Berlin
  • 2012 Höhere Wesen. Sigmar Polke und Paul Klee - Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern
  • 2009 SECHZIG JAHRE SECHZIG WERKE. Kunst aus der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
  • 2006 FASTER! BIGGER! BETTER! - ZKM, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe
  • 2005 (my private) HEROES - Marta Herford, Herford
  • 2003 Grotesk! 130 Jahre Kunst der Frechheit - Haus der Kunst, Munich; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt a.M.
  • 2001 Les années pop - Centre Pompidou, Paris
  • 2000 I believe in Dürer - Kunsthalle Nuremberg
  • 1999 Das 20. Jahrhundert - Ein Jahrhundert Kunst in Deutschland - Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin
  • 1995 International Biennale 4., Istanbul
  • 1998 Blickwechsel - ZKM, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe
  • 1996 Polke, Rainer, Richter - Sammlung Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
  • 1992 I Love Art II - Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
  • 1991 the Popart Show - Royal Academy of Arts, London
  • 1987 Warhol, Beuys, Polke - Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
  • 1985 La Grande Parade - Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
  • 1983 New Art at the Tate - Tate Modern, London
  • 1982 documenta 7, Kassel
  • 1982 Choix pour aujourd’hui - Centre Pompidou, Paris
  • 1979 Fünf in Köln, mit Buthe, Rosenbach, Rühm, Schuler - Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne
  • 1977 documenta 6, Kassel
  • 1974 Projekt - Kunsthalle, Cologne
  • 1972 documenta 5, Kassel
  • 1972 Amsterdam-Paris-Düsseldorf - Guggenheim Museum, New York
  • 1971 Polke, Palermo, Richter - Annemarie Verna, Zurich
  • 1970 New Multiple Art - Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
  • 1966 Junge Generation - Akademie der Künste, Berlin
  • 1965 Popart - Pianohaus Kohl, Gelsenkirchen
  • 1964 Galerie René Block, Berlin - Neodada Pop Décollage Kapitalistischer Realismus
  • 1963 Demonstrative Ausstellung - Metzgerladen an der Kaiserstraße, Dusseldorf



  • 2010: Rostwitha Haftmann-Preis, Zürich für Gesamtwerk
  • 2007: Rubens-Preis, Siegen
  • 2002: KUNSTKÖLN-Preis, Cologne (nowadays Cologne Fine Art-Preis)
  • 2002: Praemium Imperiale, Tokyo for painting
  • 2001: Kulturpreis Schlesien des Landes Niedersachsen
  • 2001: Rhenus Kunstpreis
  • 2000: Goslarer Kaiserring
  • 1996: Kunstpreis der Norddeutschen Landesbank
  • 1995: Carnegie Award, Pittsburgh
  • 1994: Erasmus Award, Amsterdam
  • 1993: Lovin-Corinth-Preis der Künstlergilde, Esslingen
  • 1988: Internationaler Preis Baden-Württemberg für bildende Kunst
  • 1987: Lichtwark-Preis, Hamburg
  • 1986: Biennale di Venezia 42., Goldener Löwe
  • 1984: Kurt-Schwitters-Preis, Hanover
  • 1982: Will-Grohmann-Preis, Berlin
  • 1975: 13. Bienal de Sao Paulo, Award for painting



  • ...der ganze Körper fühlt sich leicht und möchte fliegen..., in cooperation with Chris Kohlhöfer, Dusseldorf 1969, 35’.



  • Sigmar Polke. Rasterfahndung, published by Klaus Staeck, Göttingen 2011.
  • Sigmar Polke. Wir Kleinbürger! Zeitgenossen und Zeitgenossinen. Die 70er Jahre, published by Petra Lange Berndt/Dietmar Rübel, Cologne 2009.
  • Polke. Eine Retrospektive, exhibition catalogue Museum Frieder Burda Baden-Baden; Museum Moderner Kunst Wien, Ostfildern 2007.
  • Sigmar Polke. Werke und Tage, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthaus Zürich, Cologne 2005.
  • Alchemie des Sehens: Hermetische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert: Antonin Artaud. Yves Klein. Sigmar Polke, Dissertation, Cologne 2003.
  • Daphne, Sigmar Polke, published by Reiner Speck, Cologne 2003.
  • In the Power of Painting. Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, Ross Bleckner, published by Peter Fischer, Zurich 2000.
  • Drucksachen oder die Kunst der Kommunikation. Sigmar Polkes Editionen 1963-2000, Martin Hentschel, in: Stuttgart 2000, p. 361-398.
  • Sigmar Polke. Die gesamten Editionen 1963-2000, published by Jürgen Becker/Claus von der Osten, exhibition catalogue, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Ostfildern 2000.
  • Sigmar Polke. Die drei Lügen der Malerei, exhibition catalogue, Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, Berlin 1997.
  • Sigmar Polke. Der Traum des Menelaos, Anne Erfle, Cologne 1997.
  • Sigmar Polke, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1992.


Own writings

  • Athanor, Sigmar Polke, Katalog Deutscher Pavillion, 42. Biennale di Venezia, Venice 1986.
  • A Project by S.P., Sigmar Polke, in: Artforum XXII 4, New York 1983.
  • Day by Day... they take some brain away, Sigmar Polke, in: exhibition newspaper 13. Bienal Sao Paulo 1975.
  • Registro, Sigamar Polke, in: Interfunktionen 10, Cologne 1973.
  • Bizarre, Sigmar Polke, Heidelberg 1972.
  • Höhere Wesen befahlen, Sigmar Polke, Berlin 1968.
  • Textcollage, Sigmar Polke/Gerhard Richter, in: Katalog Galerie h, Hanover 1966.