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Sigmar Polke, German, 1941 - 2010


Gold, graphite, natural pigments, and synthetic resin on woven polyester

8 feet 7 inches x 13 feet 4 inches x 5 7/8 inches (261.6 x 406.4 x 14.9 cm)

© 2016 The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / ARS, New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1990

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In the late 1980s German artist Sigmar Polke used his paintings to explore the nature of pigments, dyes, and chemicals. Through the application of many layers of resin and lacquer he created the mysterious, translucent surface of this painting. His interest in the idea of flux is reflected in its title; ginkgo is a Chinese tree whose fan-shaped leaves turn golden yellow in autumn.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The shimmering surface of Sigmar Polke's Ginkgo is both splendid and mysterious, a sensuous whirl of silver, gold, cobalt, violet, and amber. The colors form in great pools and swishes, pouring over and across the surface in independent campaigns. The pigments infuse multiple layers of resin and lacquer, which together build up the glassy plane that confronts the viewer. Two long panels of woven polyester provide a translucent base on which these layers assume their strangely ambiguous depths.

    Polke insists on the experimental quality of his paintings of the late 1980s, which explore the nature of pigments, minerals, dyes, and chemicals to the degree that they might be characterized as two-dimensional laboratories for the artist. Ginkgo is distinguished by its suffusion of fields of small, slightly raised dots, an effect caused by the drying process of the transparent layers of resin. The dots effectively destabilize the surface, which already appears to be the site of accidents and random coincidences. The long, feathery fissure in the lower right, for example, at first alarmingly appears as if it were damaged; only at close range does one see that it is safely lacquered in place.

    The idea of flux as an essential metaphor within all of Polke's work is communicated by the title of the painting, chosen after the completion of the work. A Chinese word meaning "silver apricot," Ginkgo names the tree with fan-shaped leaves that turn golden yellow in autumn. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 149.

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