After Sigmar Polke's large retrospectives in four American museums (1990-1992) and in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (autumn 1992) at the latest, there is no longer any doubt, and even the sceptics will have to admit this, that we are dealing with one of the most important contemporary artists per se.

Since the second half of the 80s, Polke (b. 1941) has been experimenting with transparent bases for pictures; he soaks certain materials with artificial resins prior to painting on them; in this way, the frame itself becomes part of the picture. Parallel to this, pictures are created that are painted on both sides, the reverse side rendering the groundwork for the appearance of the picture facing the viewer.

Since his early pictures on printed fabrics, Polke has been interested in making the bases of the pictures aesthetically significant. This tendency acquires a new quality in the transparent pictures painted on both sides. For now we are confronted - apart from the superimposed motifs - with, indeed, three pictorial layers: the painted surface, the pattern of the fabric, and the reverse side showing through. Seen from the back, this all doubles. In this manner we clearly reach a limit which at times exceeds what can be comprehended by perception. It is interesting that Polke, with this form, can integrate experiences he made prior to his actual artistic career: between 1959 and 1960 he completed an apprenticeship in staining glass in Düsseldorf.

On the occasion of his retrospective in the USA, Polke for the first time exhibited a group of 13 double-sided pictures in folding-screen-type housings. One could walk along them from both sides ("Laterna Magica" and "Laterna Comica", 1988-1990). In 1992, a second version comprising 21 pictures could be viewed ("Laterna Magica I - XXI", 1990). A third version was recently exhibited in Barcelona.

For Portikus Frankfurt, a further version of 22 pictures has been developed - in reference to the dimensions of the exhibition space. Some of the pictures have not been shown yet. The complexity of the pictorial form corresponds to the complexity of the pictorial themes. The "Laternae Magicae" have until now done their title great credit: they presented a universe of fables, fairy-tales, alchemistic motifs, and numerous others motifs, the sources of which have yet to be deduced. In the process, interference also occurred between the alchemy of the motifs and the alchemistic procedure in which the pictures were created. It is interesting to see what surprises the intrepid experimentalist Polke has in store for us at Portikus.

Photos: Katrin Schilling