Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 at the Tate Modern is the first exhibition since the artist’s death four years ago and celebrates his life’s work, from his earliest abstract pieces to his experimental latter years.
Through 14 generously-sized rooms, you begin to learn how an East German refugee became one of the most influential artists in post-war Germany and Europe as a whole.
Each space covers a different stage of his career, from pioneering capitalist realism to the way he disturbed and warped printed photographic images.
Swastikas are a recurring aspect of many of his paintings, reflecting the deep scars the Third Reich and the war left on his imagination.
It portrays the unease at the number of former Nazis who were rumoured to still hold positions of power in Germany as late as the 1960s.
With capitalist realism, an area covered amply in the exhibition, Polke didn’t seek to celebrate the concept of consumerism, but rather the sudden accessibility of everyday objects made possible by the German economic miracle of the ’60s.
Perhaps tired of this bourgeois world, he chose to leave his home in Dusseldorf and travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan on the hippy trail; with the exhibition including video footage of Polke smoking with Afghan tribesmen.
The use of video once again demonstrates how open the artist was to different media.
Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 runs until February 8 2015 and costs £14.50, with concessions available.
The exhibition also shows how Polke unashamedly experimented with hallucinogenic drugs as part of his artistic process. Some art focuses on magic mushrooms, while another presents Polke as a powdered drug.
The challenge of exhibiting work from Polke is that he’s simply too prolific and varied to fit into a recognised artistic category. The exhibition does however try admirably and successfully.
It also gives the audiences in the UK, where Polke isn’t well known, examples of some of Germany’s most important post-war art.
Words by Max Schwertdfeger and Sebastian Moss
Featured photo courtesy of The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn