MoMA Appoints Clément Chéroux As the Next Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography

The Museum of Modern Art announces the appointment of Clément Chéroux as the next Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography. MoMA has exhibited and collected photography since its founding in 1929, and formally established a Department of Photography in 1940. Chéroux succeeds Quentin Bajac, who served as Chief from 2013-2018, and now directs the Jeu de Paume, Paris. Chéroux will lead a department with a renowned legacy and unparalleled collection of more than 30,000 works that continues to play an important global role in exploring photography’s diverse and powerful impacts on modern life. He will guide all aspects of the department, including its installations, acquisitions, exhibitions, publications, and loan programs. Chéroux will join MoMA in June 2020.

After an extensive and international search, we’re thrilled to welcome Clément as the new Chief Curator of Photography,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the David Rockefeller Director of MoMA. “Clément’s outstanding success and reputation as a gifted leader, curator, scholar, and collaborator is matched by his deep passion for and knowledge of the diversity of modern and contemporary photography practice.”

Clément Chéroux poses inside the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in San Francisco on July 21, 2016. Chéroux is the new senior curator of photography at the museum. The position oversees the Department of Photography and its renowned collection of more than 17,000 photographs — half the works of art in the entire SFMOMA collection. Photo by Frederic Neema

Chéroux is currently the Senior Curator of the Pritzker Center for Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco—one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the United States and a thriving cultural center. At SFMOMA, he organized exhibitions including Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes (2019); snap + share. Transmitting photographs from mail art to social networks (2019); Louis Stettner. Traveling light (2018); Johannes Brus (2018); The Train, RFK’s Last Journey: Paul Fusco, Rein Jelle Terpstra, Philippe Parreno (2018); Carolyn Drake, Wild Pigeon (2018); and Walker Evans (2017).

From 2007-2016, Chéroux served in the Department of Photography at the Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris—first as Curator, and then leading the department as Chief Curator from 2013-2016. He organized more than 25 exhibitions featuring the work of Walker Evans, Josef Koudelka, Jafar Panahi, Agnès Varda, Thierry Fontaine, Valérie Belin, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edvard Munch, and many others. Chéroux has published more than 45 books and catalogues and lectured widely on the topic of photography, its history, and its modern and contemporary contexts.

Chéroux previously held positions as a freelance curator, as executive editor of the magazine Études Photographiques published by the Société française de photographie, and as a lecturer at the Universities of Paris I, Paris VIII, and Lausanne. He holds a doctorate in art history from the University of Paris I Panthéon/Sorbonne and a degree from the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie (Arles).

It was a pleasure to work at SFMOMA for three years and to have the support of a fantastic Bay Area photo community. I am very excited to be part of the energy of the new MoMA and to work with the team and collection to develop great projects,” shared Chéroux.

MoMA Announces Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist And The Avantgarde—From Signac To Matisse And Beyond, An Exhibition Highlighting Fénéon’s Role In The Development Of Modern Art, In Spring 2020

Exhibition Brings Together Some 150 Works That the Forward-Looking Art Critic, Dealer, and Collector Championed, Admired, and Collected

The Museum of Modern Art announces Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde—From Signac to Matisse and Beyond, the first exhibition devoted to the influential French art critic, editor, publisher, dealer, and collector Félix Fénéon (1861–1944), on view from March 22 through July 25, 2020. Though largely unknown today and always discreetly behind the scenes in his own era, Fénéon played a key role in the careers of leading artists from Georges Seurat and Paul Signac to Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, each of whom is featured prominently in the exhibition. Félix Fénéon: The Anarchist and the Avant-Garde—From Signac to Matisse and Beyond traces Fénéon’s career through approximately 150 works that highlight his initiatives to help artists via his reviews, exhibitions, and acquisitions; his commitment to anarchism; his literary engagements; and his contributions to the recognition of non-Western art. Bringing together a selection of major works that Fénéon admired, championed, and collected, alongside contemporary letters, documents, and photographs, the exhibition underscores the tremendous impact he had on the development of modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Paul Signac. Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890. 1890. Oil on canvas. 29 x 36 1/2″ (73.5 x 92.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller, 1991. Photo by Paige Knight. © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The centerpiece of the exhibition is Paul Signac’s Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890 (1890) – an icon of Neo-Impressionism and a masterpiece in MoMA‘s collection. In this dramatic portrait, Signac pays homage to Fénéon’s distinctive profile and goatee, dandyish attire, and generous but enigmatic personality. The spiral patterns in the background set into motion the scientific color theories that Signac and the Neo-Impressionists used to develop the technique of Pointillism, which involved applying tiny dabs of color that mix in the eye of the viewer. It was a young Fénéon who had coined the term “Neo-Impressionism” a few years earlier, in 1886, to recognize the new style pioneered by Seurat and Signac. Over the next five decades, he would continue to be their most ardent, lifelong champion.

Henri Matisse. Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading). Paris 1905–06. Oil on canvas. 28 5/8 x 23 1/2″ (72.7 x 59.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller, 1991. Photo by Paige Knight. © 2019 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The exhibition unfolds across several galleries organized as distinct chapters in Fénéon’s multifaceted career. While working as a clerk in the War Office in Paris, Fénéon was secretly active in anarchist circles, and after the bombing of a Parisian restaurant in 1894 he was arrested, imprisoned, and tried on suspicion of conspiracy. Paintings, photographs, and prints will attest to the tumult of the period and the anarchist fervor within the artistic and literary circles in which Fénéon moved. After his acquittal, Fénéon worked as editor-in-chief of La Revue Blanche, a leading journal of art, literature, and politics. He became a champion of the artists most closely allied with the publication, including Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, and Félix Vallotton, who were known as the Nabis. One of the highlights of the exhibition is Vallotton’s Félix Fénéon at La Revue Blanche (1896), a luminous canvas depicting the revered editor hunched over a stack of manuscripts he is editing by lamplight.

Georges-Pierre Seurat. Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”. 1884. Oil on canvas. 27 3/4 x 41″ (70.5 x 104.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951
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MoMA Announces The 2022 Exhibition Just Above Midtown: 1974 To The Present, Highlighting Artists And Artworks Championed By The New York City Gallery

The Museum of Modern Art announces Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present, for fall 2022. It will be the first museum exhibition to focus exclusively on Just Above Midtown (JAM), an art gallery and self-described laboratory for African American artists and artists of color that was led by Linda Goode Bryant from 1974 until 1986.

Initially located in the heart of New York’s major commercial gallery district, JAM was founded by Linda Goode Bryant with the explicit purpose of “being in but not of the art world.” By the time JAM closed its doors, it had established itself as one of the most vibrant and influential alternative art spaces in New York, embracing work by abstract, self-taught artists, organizing groundbreaking exhibitions that thematized the idea of mixture in art and society, and fostering critiques of the commercialization of art.

JAM’s legacy continues today through the work of artists it supported early on in their careers, such as David Hammons, Butch Morris, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady and Howardena Pindell. The MoMA exhibition will present works previously shown at JAM, in a wide range of mediums. Archival material and artist interventions will contextualize the experimental ethos that defined the gallery. In addition to the expansive exhibition, the project will include performances, screenings, and public programs.

Senga Nengudi performing Air Propo at JAM, 1981. Courtesy Senga Nengudi and Lévy Gorvy.

JAM’s founder worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Studio Museum in Harlem before founding Just Above Midtown at age 23. After closing the gallery, Goode Bryant dedicated herself to filmmaking, directing the critically acclaimed documentary Flag Wars (2003) with Laura Poitras. In 2009, Goode Bryant started Project Eats, an urban farming initiative for black and brown communities in New York City that, like JAM, uses existing resources to provide cultural sustenance.

Thomas J. Lax, Curator, Department of Media and Performance and organizer of the exhibition explains, “This exhibition acknowledges Just Above Midtown as the efflorescent space where many of the artists who now are recognized as the most important figures of the second half of the 20th century were first supported. This ambitious project not only historicizes JAM’s importance, but also brings its relevance to the present.”

Pope.L Comes to MoMA in An Exhibition Of Foregrounding Landmark Performances, Videos, Objects, And Installations

The Museum of Modern Art announces member: Pope.L, 1978–2001, an exhibition of landmark performances and related videos, objects, and installations by the multidisciplinary artist Pope.L, on view from October 21, 2019, through January 2020. Pope.L (b. 1955) is a consummate thinker and provocateur whose practice across multiple mediums—including painting, drawing, installation, sculpture, theater, and video—utilizes abjection, humor, endurance, language, and absurdity to confront and undermine rigid systems of belief. Spanning works made primarily from 1978 to 2001, the exhibition features videos, photographs, sculptural elements, ephemera, and live actions. member: Pope.L, 1978–2001 is organized by Stuart Comer, Chief Curator, Department of Media and Performance, with Danielle A. Jackson, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance.

The Museum of Modern Art logo

Works in the exhibition include those rooted in experimental theater, such as Egg Eating Contest (1990), Aunt Jenny Chronicles (1991), and Eracism (2000), as well as street interventions such as Thunderbird Immolation a.k.a. Meditation Square Piece (1978), Times Square Crawl a.k.a. Meditation Square Piece (1978), Tompkins Square Crawl a.k.a. How Much Is That Nigger in the Window (1991), ATM Piece (1996), and The Great White Way: 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (2001–09), among others. Together, these works highlight the role performance has played within an emphatically interdisciplinary career that has established Pope.L as a critical and influential force in contemporary art. Additionally, these early works form a snapshot of the profound social, cultural, and economic shifts in New York City throughout the 1980s and ’90s.

Pope.L. The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street. 2000-09. Performance. © Pope. L. Courtesy of the artists and Mitchell – Innes & Nash, New York.

MoMA will publish a comprehensive, fully illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition. Presenting a detailed study of these investigations, as well as overarching topics Pope.L has explored throughout his career, the publication will establish key details for each work and articulate how the artist continues to think about the legacy of these ephemeral projects unfolding in time.

Pope. L. Thunderbird Immolation a.k.a Meditation Square Pieces New York, NY 1978. Digital c-print on gold fiber silk paper. 9 by 6 in. 22.86 by 15.24 cm. © Pope. L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell – Innes & Nash, New York.

MoMA’s presentation is part of Pope.L: Instigation, Aspiration, Perspiration, a trio of complementary exhibitions organized by MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Public Art Fund. Utilizing both public and private spaces, the expansive presentation will address many elements of the artist’s oeuvre, from seminal early works to a monumental new installation and a new performative work inspired by the artist’s iconic crawl series.

Pope. L. Eating the Wall Street Journal (3rd Version). Sculpture Center, New York, NY. 2000, Digital c-print on gold fiber silk paper. 6 by 9 in. 15.24 by 22.86 cm. © Pope. L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell – Innes & Nash, New York.

The exhibition is presented as part of The Hyundai Card Performance Series. Major support is provided by The Jill and Peter Kraus Endowed Fund for Contemporary Exhibitions and The Jon Stryker Endowment. Additional support is provided by The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art, Nancy and David Frej, Barbara Karp Shuster, and Ann and Mel Schaffer.

Pope. L. How Much is that Nigger in the Window a.k.a Tompkins Square Crawl. New York, NY 1991. Digital c-print on gold fiber silk paper. 10 by 15 in. 25.4 by 38.1 cm. © Pope. L. Courtesy of the artists and Mitchell – Innes & Nash, New York.

Leadership contributions to the Annual Exhibition Fund, in support of the Museum’s collection and collection exhibitions, are generously provided by the Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley, Eva and Glenn Dubin, The Sandra and Tony Tamer Exhibition Fund, Alice and Tom Tisch, The David Rockefeller Council, Anne Dias, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Kenneth C. Griffin, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Keith Haring Foundation, and The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art.

Major contributions to the Annual Exhibition Fund are provided by the Estate of Ralph L. Riehle, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Brett and Daniel Sundheim, Karen and Gary Winnick, The Marella and Giovanni Agnelli Fund for Exhibitions, Clarissa Alcock and Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Agnes Gund, and Oya and Bülent Eczacıbaşı.

Fall 2015 Art Preview: “Walid Raad” Career Survey at The Musueum of Modern Art

Special Exhibitions Gallery, Third Floor And The Donald B. And Catherine C. Marron Atrium, Second Floor, October 12, 2015–January 31, 2016

MoMA presents the first comprehensive American survey of the artist Walid Raad (b. 1967, Lebanon), whose work in the last 25 years investigates distinctions between fact and fiction, and the ways in which we represent, remember, and make sense of history. The exhibition brings together over 20 bodies of work across various mediums—including photography, video, sculpture, and performance—identifying Raad as a pivotal figure in contemporary art. Dedicated to exploring the veracity of archives and photographic documents in the public realm, the role of memory and narrative within discourses of conflict, and the construction of histories of art in the Arab world, Raad’s work is informed by his upbringing in Lebanon during the civil war (1975–90), and by the socioeconomic and military policies that have shaped the Middle East in the past few decades.

Walid Raad. Hostage: The Bachar tapes (English version). 2001. Video (color, sound), 16:17 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Jerome Foundation in honor of its founder, Jerome Hill, 2003. © 2015 Walid Raad

Walid Raad. Hostage: The Bachar tapes (English version). 2001. Video (color, sound), 16:17 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Jerome Foundation in honor of its founder, Jerome Hill, 2003. © 2015 Walid Raad

Walid Raad. My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines (detail). 1996-2004. One hundred pigmented inkjet prints, 9 7/16 x 13 3/8″ (24 x 34 cm) each. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2015 Walid Raad

Walid Raad. My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: Engines (detail). 1996-2004. One hundred pigmented inkjet prints, 9 7/16 x 13 3/8″ (24 x 34 cm) each. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Fund for the Twenty-First Century. © 2015 Walid Raad

The exhibition focuses on two of the artist’s long-term projects: The Atlas Group (1989–2004) and Scratching on things I could disavow (2007–ongoing). Under the rubric of The Atlas Group, a 15-year project exploring the contemporary history of Lebanon, Raad produced fictionalized photographs, videotapes, notebooks, and lectures that related to real events and authentic research in audio, film, and photographic archives in Lebanon and elsewhere. Raad’s recent work has expanded to address the Middle East region at large. His current ongoing project, Scratching on things I could disavow, examines the recent emergence in the Arab world of new infrastructure for the visual arts—comprised of art fairs, biennials, museums, and galleries—alongside the geopolitical, economic, and military conflicts that have consumed the region in the past few decades.

Walid Raad. Scratching on things I could disavow: Walkthrough. 2011. Performance, Kustenfestivaldesarts, Les Halles de Schaerbeek, Brussels, 2011. Photo © Piet Janssens

Walid Raad. Scratching on things I could disavow: Walkthrough. 2011. Performance, Kustenfestivaldesarts, Les Halles de Schaerbeek, Brussels, 2011. Photo © Piet Janssens

Walid Raad. Civilizationally, we do not dig holes to bury ourselves_Plate 922. 1958-59/2003. Pigmented inkjet print, 10 x 8” (25.4 x 20.3 cm). Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. © 2015 Walid Raad

Walid Raad. Civilizationally, we do not dig holes to bury ourselves_Plate 922. 1958-59/2003. Pigmented inkjet print, 10 x 8” (25.4 x 20.3 cm). Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. © 2015 Walid Raad

Walid Raad. Section 88: Views from outer to inner compartments. 2010. Single-channel HD video (color, silent), 14:36 min. Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. © 2015 Walid Raad

Walid Raad. Section 88: Views from outer to inner compartments. 2010. Single-channel HD video (color, silent), 14:36 min. Courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. © 2015 Walid Raad

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THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART ACQUIRES COMPLETE SET OF AUGUST SANDER’S LANDMARK ACHIEVEMENT PEOPLE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, 1892–1954

The Museum of Modern Art announces the acquisition of a complete set of August Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century (1892–1954), the artist’s comprehensive visual examination of German society that remains among the most ambitious undertakings in the history of photography. Produced over a 60-year period, the 619 photographs are widely celebrated for embracing photography’s unique ability to capture detail, and its potential to evoke meaning through straightforward description. MoMA acquired the set through the generosity of the Sander family, and is the only museum to hold the body of work in its entirety.

All 619 works were printed with extreme sensitivity from the artist’s glass plate negatives by Gerd Sander, the artist’s grandson and a leading authority on his work, and Jean-Luc Differdange between 1990 and 1999 in an edition of seven. The only public exhibition of the complete project was at the 30th São Paulo Biennial, in 2012.

Sander first exhibited a selection of 100 prints in 1927 at the Cologne Art Union. Two
years later, 60 portraits from this body of work were published in the book Antlitz der Zeit (Face
of Our Time), which marked the beginning of its international recognition.

In the history of photography there are few works that rival August Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century in scope or influence,” said Quentin Bajac, The Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Chief Curator of Photography at MoMA. “It is exhilarating to bring it into the collection to contextualize not only Eugéne Atget and Walker Evans, but also the Bechers, Diane Arbus, Judith Joy Ross, Rineke Dijkstra, and many others who cite his achievement as essential to the development of their own.

Sander (German, 1876–1964) began to conceive of the structure for his life’s work in the mid-1920s, dividing the images into seven groups that incorporated at least 45 distinct portfolios. The first of these groups, “The Farmer,” begins with a portfolio of Archetypes (or Stammappe) that establishes the rural community of the Westerwald region in Germany as the foundation for what Sander believed to be “universally human.” Once Sander had identified his broader ambition for the work, he sought out the individuals who could function as both fact and metaphor in his work. Sander titled the subsequent six groups “The Skilled Tradesman,” “The Woman,” “Classes and Professions,” “The Artists,” “The City,” and “The Last People” (depicting old age, sickness, and death). These groups and the portfolios they contain reflect both the employment divisions and social structures of the era. In their clarity they also depict a structural system that can be seen in societies around the world and throughout history. Continue reading

ALIBIS: SIGMAR POLKE 1963–2010 REVEALS THE FIVE-DECADE CAREER OF ONE OF THE MOST VORACIOUSLY EXPERIMENTAL ARTISTS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

The Large-Scale Retrospective Is the First to Encompass Polke’s Works Across All Mediums

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010, April 19–August 3, 2014

Contemporary Galleries, second floor; The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, second floor; The Yoshiko and Akio Morita Media Gallery, second floor; Projects Gallery, second floor.

Cover of Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, published by The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

Cover of Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, published by The Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 brings together the work of Sigmar Polke (German, 1941–2010), one of the most voraciously experimental artists of the 20th century. On view from April 19 to August 3, 2014, this retrospective is the first to encompass the unusually broad range of mediums Polke worked in during his five-decade career, including painting, photography, film, sculpture, drawings, prints, television, performance, and stained glass. Polke eluded easy categorization by masquerading as many different artists—making cunning figurative paintings at one moment and abstract photographs the next. Highly attuned to the distinctions between appearance and reality, he elided conventional distinctions between high and low culture, figuration and abstraction, and the heroic and the banal in works ranging in size from intimate notebooks to monumental paintings. Four gallery spaces on MoMA’s second floor are dedicated to the exhibition, which comprises over 250 works and constitutes one of the largest exhibitions ever organized at the Museum. 

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 is organized by MoMA with Tate Modern, London. It is organized by Kathy Halbreich, Associate Director, MoMA; with Mark Godfrey, Curator of International Art, Tate Modern; and Lanka Tattersall, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture, MoMA. The exhibition travels to Tate Modern from October 1, 2014, to February 8, 2015, followed by the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, in spring 2015.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 Sigmar Polke, German, 1941–2010 Untitled (Rorschach) (Ohne Titel (Rorschach)) c. 1999 Colored ink in bound notebook, 192 pages, each: 11 5⁄8 x 8 1⁄16″ (29.5 x 20.5 cm) Private Collection Photo: Alistair Overbruck © 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010; Sigmar Polke, German, 1941–2010, Untitled (Rorschach) (Ohne Titel (Rorschach)) c. 1999; Colored ink in bound notebook, 192 pages, each: 11 5⁄8 x 8 1⁄16″ (29.5 x 20.5 cm)
Private Collection, Photo: Alistair Overbruck
© 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Beneath Polke’s irreverent wit and promiscuous intelligence lay a deep skepticism of all authority—artistic, familial, and governmental. To understand this attitude, and the creativity that grew out of it, Polke’s biography and its setting in 20th-century European history is relevant: in 1945, near the end of World War II, his family fled Silesia (in present-day Poland) for what would soon be Soviet-occupied East Germany, from which they escaped to West Germany in 1953. Polke grew up at a time when many Germans deflected blame for the atrocities of the Nazi period with the alibi, “I didn’t see anything.”

Alibis is organized chronologically and across mediums, but begins in MoMA’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium with a sampling of works from across Polke’s career. The works presented in this gallery reflect Polke’s persistent questioning of how we see and what we know, and his constant experimentation with representational techniques, from the hand-painted dots of Police Pig (1986) to the monumental digital print The Hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda (2002), which he described as a “machine painting.” Polke’s fluid approach to images and materials and his embrace of chance as a way of undermining fixed meanings is exemplified in the selection of films in the Marron Atrium, all of which have never before been shown publicly. The artist avoided conventional narrative structures and oftendouble-exposed the film material, superimposing different layers of images. A preference for flux and a distrust of inherited categories are also evident in the way Polke questioned the distinction between high and low culture, as in Season’s Hottest Trend (2003)which mocks the art market’s reliance on rarity by making a painting out of tacky, mass-produced textiles. Polke also toyed with language, often using verbal and visual humor to make a claim while simultaneously positing its opposite—as, for example, in the painting Seeing Things as They Are (1991), whose title is reproduced on the back of a semitransparent textile so that, when standing in front of the work, one sees the words in reverse.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 Sigmar Polke, German, 1941–2010 Raster Drawing (Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald) (Rasterzeichnung (Porträt Lee Harvey Oswald)) 1963 Poster paint and pencil on paper 37 5/16 × 27 1/2″ (94.8 × 69.8 cm) Private Collection Photo: Wolfgang Morell, Bonn © 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010; Sigmar Polke, German, 1941–2010
Raster Drawing (Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald) (Rasterzeichnung (Porträt Lee Harvey Oswald))
1963, Poster paint and pencil on paper, 37 5/16 × 27 1/2″ (94.8 × 69.8 cm)
Private Collection; Photo: Wolfgang Morell, Bonn
© 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

The exhibition continues in the Marron Atrium with some of Polke’s earliest works, alongside notebooks and publications from throughout his career. Polke made most of the works in this section in his twenties, while a student at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, an influential art school where many of the major German artists of his generation studied. For this generation, the bravado of Pop art, which went hand in hand with the spread of American culture, was both a fascination and a target. By adopting an adamantly clumsy approach to figuration in his earliest drawings and paintings, he offered a sharp critique of consumerist behavior and popular taste, with its desire for both sleek new furnishings and kitsch decorative elements. As the juxtaposition of images and contradictory approaches in his notebooks demonstrate, Polke remained a contrarian throughout his life.

Sigmar Polke, German, 1941–2010 Untitled (Quetta, Pakistan) 1974/1978.  Gelatin silver print with applied color 22 3/8 × 33 13/16″ (56.9 × 85.9 cm) Glenstone Photo: Alex Jamison © 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Sigmar Polke, German, 1941–2010, Untitled (Quetta, Pakistan) 1974/1978.
Gelatin silver print with applied color, 22 3/8 × 33 13/16″ (56.9 × 85.9 cm) Glenstone
Photo: Alex Jamison
© 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

The first gallery within MoMA’s Contemporary Galleries begins with Polke’s work in the 1960s, when he examined the desires and drab realities of postwar reconstruction by singling out images of food, housing blocks, and symbols of the often unrequited longing for leisure. His source images were frequently drawn from newspapers and magazines, where the topics of the day occupied the same page as cartoons and advertisements. Polke was particularly interested in the halftone reproductions (images made up of grids of tiny dots that the eye blends to form a picture) that were common in cheaply printed mass media. From 1963 onward, Polke created a series of paintings in which he painstakinglytranscribed—albeit not always faithfully—the dots of his halftone source. He often began by spraying a layer of paint through a perforated metal sheet; to these dots he added others by hand. By creating or amplifying distortions in his source images, he undermined the photographs’ alleged fidelity to reality and collapsed the distinction between figuration and abstraction. Works on view include Chocolate Painting (1964)Girlfriends (1965/66), and Japanese Dancers (1966). Continue reading