Sigmar Polke: We Petty Bourgeois!
Comrades and Contemporaries, The 1970s
Published by D.A.P./Walther König, Köln.
Edited by Petra Lange-Berndt, Dietmar Rübel.
In the postwar dawn of late capitalism, options for political address in painting seemed to polarize themselves into, on one hand, the cool critiques of image truth found in the art of Gerhard Richter or Andy Warhol--and on the other, the decidedly hotter and messier rhetoric of a Sigmar Polke. Polke's energetically sprawling painting traversed many idioms, and its anarchic character expressed the ascent of a new leftism in western Germany. Perhaps the supreme instance of Polke's political art is We Petty Bourgeois!, the ambitious series at the heart of this volume. Made between 1974 and 1976, and loosely based on Hans Magnus Enzensberger's 1976 essay “On the Inevitability of the Middle Class,” it consists of ten large-scale canvas-mounted works on paper, reproduced here in foldout color plates, in which densely inscribed layers of figures, traceries, sigils and quotation derived from the pop culture of the era narrate an epic vision of the scars and aspirations of postwar Europe. Hippie culture, terrorism, the first gleamings of punk, the women's movement, leftist tracts, imagery from underground comics and ethnographic studies all parade across Polke's chaotic picture planes. This beautifully produced volume recuperates this series and Polke's art of the 1970s in an energetic compendium of paintings, collages, photographs and archival materials.
Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) was born in Lower Silesia, and migrated to Germany with his family in 1945. From 1961 to 1967 he studied at the Düsseldorf Arts Academy under Joseph Beuys, during which time he founded the Capitalist Realism movement with Gerhard Richter and Konrad Fischer. In the 1970s Polke built a substantial oeuvre in photography, from his travels in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brazil and America, before taking a position at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg in 1977. He died in 2010 following a long battle with cancer.