Höhere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen!
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
This work by Sigmar Polke is a rectangular, vertical painting. The top right-hand corner has been painted an even black, while the rest of the canvas is a monochrome white. At the bottom of the canvas the following words are spelled out in typed letters “Höhere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen!" Irony and magic are the starting point for Polke’s work. His paintings take a look at existing ideas about the origin of artistic inspiration. Is it divine, is it part of the human psyche, or is it located in the chemistry of the human body? Polke believed that when he painted, there was a relationship between the forces on the canvas which he could not control himself and that the painting determined its own destiny.
“Höhere Wesen befahlen” is above all an ironic reference to the romantic German tradition in which “higher things” play an important role. With regard to this theme, Polke produced installations with texts, amongst other things. One of these read: “I was standing in front of the canvas and wanted to paint flowers. Suddenly I received an order from higher beings: no flowers! Paint flamingos! First, I wanted to paint on, but then I realized that they were being serious.”
In “Höhere Wesen befahlen” Polke parodied the Hard Edge school of painting of artists such as Elsworth Kelly. Polke rejected Kelly’s geometric abstract paintings, because his works which consist of even fields of colour placed very precisely next to each other, refer to nothing other than themselves. According to Polke, this starting point is too limited. He was actually interested in questions such as how art and reality relate to each other and what the social significance is of art. What makes an artist an artist? The answers he came up with for these questions were different in every new work, resulting in a very varied oeuvre in which he used many different styles of painting all at once.
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