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Sigmar Polke. We petty bourgeois! Contemporaries (Clique)

13 March 2009 – 17 January 2010

In der Galerie der Gegenwart, 2. OG

Part 1: Clique, 13 March 2009 – 28 June 2009
Part 2: Pop, 12 July 2009 – 4 October 2009
Part 3: Politics, 16 October 2009 – 17 January 2010


”Sigmar Polke. Everybody knew he was the man of the Seventies“
Martin Kippenberger

At the centre of this exhibition is a long-neglected and only recently reassembled body of work by Sigmar Polke from the period 1974–1976: Wir Kleinbürger – Zeitgenossen und Zeitgenossinnen (We, the Petty Bourgeois – Contemporaries). The ten-part series of unusually large works on paper occupies a very important place in the artist’s oeuvre due to the unique variety of figures, traces, signs and quotations from popular imagery it contains: echoes of “Capitalist Realism” from the 1960s blend with precursors to Polke’s chemical and optical experiments with colour in the 1980s as well as the political themes that were to become increasingly prominent in his work from the mid-1990s onwards. As such it provides a panoramic view of art and everyday life in the Federal Republic of Germany in a period marked by hippie culture, the new women’s movement and terrorism. Taking the Kleinbürger series as its starting point, the exhibition for the first time provides insight into the whole of Sigmar Polke’s artistic output in the 1970s – a topic hitherto neglected by art historians. Films, photographs, drawings and paintings, supplemented by documentary material and source images, serve not only to illustrate the diversity of his work across a range of media but also to present a completely new – as a result of being long ignored – image of Polke in the era of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

Many of the works in this series were made on a farm – the Gaspelshof – near Willich in the Rhine area, where other artists also came to work and friends came to stay. Polke had close connections to both the Cologne/Düsseldorf and the Berne/Zurich art scene, and was also a professor Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. A further focal point of the exhibition is therefore collaborative practice: key works by colleagues and companions – Katharina Sieverding, Achim and Candida Höfer, to name just a few – reflect the prevailing trend towards working and living while individual responses to the issues confronting artists at that time are equally visible.

From March 2009 onwards, the Kleinbürger series, which takes its title from Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s much-discussed 1976 essay Von der Unaufhaltsamkeit des Kleinbürgertums (On the Inevitability of the Middle Classes), will be presented to the public for the first time in over thirty years in this exhibition at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. The unusually long duration of the show (ten months in total) aims to set a trend toward deceleration in the fast-moving world of art exhibitions and to promote sustained engagement with the Kleinbürger series and the historical cultural context of the 1970s.

The three consecutive and complementary exhibitions, focussing on “Clique”, “Pop” and “Politics” respectively, will reveal interesting new connections and unexpected insights into Polke’s oeuvre; the Kleinbürger works will be presented alongside different neighbours each time.

A comprehensive new publication has been released concurrently with the exhibition: edited by Petra Lange-Berndt and Dietmar Rübel, and published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, it examines the background against which Wir Kleinbürger – Zeitgenossen und Zeitgenossinnen was created and situates the series in a broader context.

Curators of the exhibition: Dr. Dorothee Böhm and Dr. Dietmar Rübel; at the Hamburger Kunsthalle: Dr. Petra Roettig

Supported by the Michael & Susanne Liebelt Stiftung.

Pictures of the Exhibition: © Olaf Pascheit