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German Artist Sigmar Polke Dies, Age 69, After Cancer Battle

Sigmar Polke
German contemporary artist Sigmar Polke. Polke died yesterday after a battle with cancer at the age of 69. Photographer: F. Adriani/Museum Frieder Burda via Bloomberg

June 11 (Bloomberg) -- Sigmar Polke, one of Germany’s best-known artists, died last night from cancer at the age of 69, his dealer Erhard Klein said in a phone interview.

Polke, a painter, graphic artist and photographer, was “one of the most important and most successful representatives of German contemporary art,” Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said in a statement. “He was a critical, ironic and self-ironic observer of postwar history and its artistic commentators.”

Born in 1941 in eastern Germany, Polke emigrated to the west in 1953. He settled in Dusseldorf, where he studied at the Art Academy. In 1963, he founded the “Capitalist Realism” painting movement with Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg. The three artists mocked both the realist style that was the official art of the Soviet Union and the consumer-driven pop art of the west. Polke moved to Cologne in 1978.

He experimented with a wide range of styles, subject matter and materials. In the 1970s, he concentrated on photography, returning to paint in the 1980s, when he produced abstract works created by chance through chemical reactions between paint and other products. In the last 20 years, he produced paintings focused on historical events and perceptions of them.

His work has been exhibited at London’s Royal Academy and Tate Modern, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Martin-Gropius-Bau and Hamburger Bahnhof museums in Berlin, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the National Museum of Art in Osaka and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, among others.

The record price for Polke’s work at auction was 2.7 million pounds (then $5.3 million) for a 1966 canvas titled “Strand” (Beach) that sold at Christie’s in London in 2007.

Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art and the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden-Baden held retrospectives in Polke’s honor in 2007.

“Polke’s death is a huge loss for the German and international art scene,” Burda said in a statement. His collection includes about 90 Polke works.

To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at

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