Girlfriends at the Weekend House
Sigmar Polke’s Early Prints at the Städel Museum

The word “etching” brings to mind exclusive, great art, the likes of Rembrandt or Goya, while “offset printing” sounds like newspaper and mass production. Hence it is only consistent that Sigmar Polke chose to use this “trivial” technique in 1967 to make his first print. Girlfriends shows a typical Polke motif of this period, two beauties posing in fashionable bikinis. Together with around 30 other exhibits, this work from the Deutsche Bank Collection is now on view in the Städel’s exhibition gallery of the Department of Prints and Drawings. In Sigmar Polke. Early Prints, the Frankfurt museum is showing selected works executed between 1967 and 1979. The curator, Jutta Schütt, was able to draw on vast resources. Thanks to Deutsche Bank, which loaned 600 works from its collection to the Städel, the museum possesses almost all of the artist’s early graphic works.

Polke’s first prints, including Girlfriends and Weekend House, deal directly with the visual world of the years of the so-called economic miracle in West Germany, reflecting the longings of the young republic. Back in 1963, he and Gerhard Richter had launched “Capitalist Realism,” a genuinely German response to American Pop Art. Polke’s typical irony is also expressed in the 14 offset prints from the series  ...Higher Beings Command. Balloons or a yardstick are staged like avant-garde sculptures. The “hippie phase” in Polke’s work is documented by Mu nieltnam netorruprup. The sheet is dominated by a giant toadstool that is virtually worshipped by a group of Indians. It was created in 1975, when the artist lived in a commune in a rural part of the Lower Rhine region and experimented with hallucinogenic substances. The exhibition ends with the 1979 collage Large Head. In the work, Polke combines the different stylistic means of his early works. The free, playful use of the paint presages the artist’s next work phase. In the 1980s, Polke began experimenting with mutable thermo and hydro paints silver nitrate, micaceous iron oxide, giving rise to the so-called material paintings, which brought him the reputation of an alchemist.

Sigmar Polke. Early Prints
3/2/2016 – 5/22/2016
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main