Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, Tate Modern, London

Including works which have never been exhibited as well as paintings, films, sculptures, notebooks, slide projections and photocopies from across five decades, Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 will be the first exhibition to fully encompass the enormously varied range of materials with which Polke worked.

Polke explored ideas of contamination and transformation, working with antiquated and sometimes poisonous pigments, extracting dye from boiled snails, and using materials as varied as gold leaf, meteorite powder, bubble wrap, potatoes, and soot. Photographs were made by exposing the paper to uranium, while paintings were created by brushing photosensitive chemicals onto canvas. The exhibition will include several films where Polke played with double-exposure, just as paintings would have layers of transparent imagery.

Polke was born in what is now Poland in 1941, fleeing to East Germany at the end of the Second World War and then to West Germany in 1953. Political and social commentary became a constant thread throughout Polke’s work; initially drawing sharp critiques of Dusseldorf’s growing consumer society as a student in the 1960s, and later on confronting the remnants of National Socialism with works that speak of his ironic humour and the cynicism with which he viewed authority.

Polke’s works additionally display influence from the radical cultures of the 1970s, with hallucinogenic substances and wild artistic collaboration playing a part; meanwhile the impact of his extensive travel to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Brazil, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New York is clearly documented within this exhibition.

Ever experimenting, new technologies played a part in Polke’s latest works such as Lens Paintings – distorted compositions produced with photocopiers, which he worked at right up until his death in 2010. The scope of Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 is vast, documenting five decades of experimentation and progress from one of our most prolific post-war artists.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, 9 October 2014 – 8 February 2015, Level 2, Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG. For more information visit

1. Sigmar Polke, Untitled (Quetta, Pakistan) 1974-1978. Glenstone Foundation (Potomac, USA) © The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

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