Sigmar Polke (1941, Poland - 2010, Germany) was an influential German artist whose wry inventive artworks employed photography and painting along with non-traditional materials such as meteorite dust, detergent, and printed fabrics. His family escaped from the Communist regime in East Germany in 1953, and upon his arrival in West Germany, Polke began to spend time in galleries and museums and worked as an apprentice in a stained glass factory in Düsseldorf between 1959 and 1960, before entering the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Arts Academy) when he was twenty. From 1961 to 1967 he studied at the Düsseldorf Arts Academy under Karl Otto Götz, Gerhard Hoehme and deeply influenced by his teacher Joseph Beuys. He began his creative output during a time of enormous social, cultural, and artistic changes in Germany and elsewhere. During the 1960s, Düsseldorf, in particular, was a prosperous, commercial city and an important centre of artistic activity. In the early 1970s Polke lived at the Gaspelhof, an artists' commune. From 1977–1991, he was a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Hamburg. His students included, among others, Georg Herold. He settled in Cologne 1978, where he continued to live and work until his death.
Polke's work, which often incorporated non-traditional materials and techniques, was above all a critique of art itself. Sometimes veiled and sometimes confrontational, the messages conveyed in his work raise serious questions about aesthetic, political, and social conventions. For Polke, the production of art was consistently a dialogue between himself and the viewer, which presented virtually limitless interpretive possibilities. Along with a group of fellow artists that included Gerhard Richter, he introduced the term, Capitalist Realism, which refers loosely to commodity-based art. Further, and specifically in the case of Polke's work, Capitalist Realism constitutes not only a critique of Pop art and the commodification of art and capitalism overall but also of the idealistic and overtly nationalistic Soviet Social Realism that Polke was particularly exposed (and opposed) to.
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