Sigmar Polke, Alibis – reviews of 'kaleidoscopic' Tate show

Tate's bewildering romp through Polke's wondrous work is 'essential viewing' for young artists

Sigmar Polke, (Quetta, Pakistan) 1974-1978
(Image credit: The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn)

What you need to know

A major retrospective of the work of experimental German artist Sigmar Polke, Alibis 1963-2010, has opened at Tate Modern, London. Polke, who died in 2010, is best known for his 1960s Capitalist Realism works responding to American-style Pop art, and for his restless style-shifting and visual jokes.

The show features work spanning Polke's five-decade career including painting, drawing, photography, film, sculpture, notebooks and slide projections. It also showcases his unconventional use of materials ranging from meteor dust to bubble wrap, potatoes and snail juice. Runs until 8 February.

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What the critics like

Alibis is "a compendious and at times bewildering romp" through the messy, druggy, unfathomably elusive and wondrous art of Polke, says Adrian Searle in The Guardian. He revelled in mistakes, imperfections and sudden lurches in tempo, material and image where something unexpected breaks in - real magic.

As an artist Polke is "elusive, maddening, unfathomable", and too wriggly be fit into a box called Pop art or Surrealism, says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph. It's best not to overthink it and just enjoy the show as a "giant, constantly shifting kaleidoscope of photos, films and paintings, very much in the spirit of the 1960s".

Polke the offhand, inconsistent, messy trickster "brought magic to disaffection and dissonance, and a lightness of being to conceptual painting", says Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times. Over the decades his work liberated many artists, which makes this show "essential viewing" for young painters today.

What they don't like

"Polke's output was so vast and varied that even this huge exhibition can't do him full justice," says Ben Luke in the Evening Standard. And impressive and intriguing as this show is, Polke keeps his audience at arm's length, and seems as confounding as ever.

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