b. 1941 Oels, Germany – d. 2010 Cologne, Germany


In 1953 Polke and his family escaped Communist East Germany to the West German city of Düsseldorf after being expelled from Poland at the end of the Second World War. Here he enrolled at the Kunstakademie in 1961 and was strongly influenced by his teacher Joseph Beuys. Along with fellow student and friend Gerhard Richter they founded the movement Capitalist Realism, a darker, more political take on America’s Pop Art, satirising and criticising both Capitalism and Consumerism.


Although highly influenced by the work of Pop artists such Warhol and Lichtenstein, Polke concentrated on the banal, everyday objects of a consumer society rather than the pristine advertising iconography such as a partially unwrapped unbranded chocolate bar or a pair of socks, whilst also mocking the Socialist Realist style of art so endorsed by the Soviet Union.


Polke’s oeuvre is high energy, full of wit and subversion, continually experimental, utilising photography, film making, performance art and installations to comment on and critique the social and political, and was above all a critique of art and the impossibility of a sustained originality in contemporary art.


Polke had his first solo show in 1966 at Galerie René Block, West Berlin, and had a group show with Warhol and Beuys in 1987 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago held a solo show in 1991, Tate Modern in 2003–2004, and the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 2007. Polke also exhibited at three documenta and several Venice Biennial exhibitions.