Interview with Guy Tosatto

— May

Sigmar Polke, À Versailles, à Versailles, 1988, matériaux divers sur tissu, 223 x 300 cm

Sigmar Polke, À Versailles, à Versailles, 1988, matériaux divers sur tissu, 223 x 300 cm

May: In this issue, we examine the question of how Sigmar Polke’s work has been received in France; in particular, his exhibitions in institutions and art galleries. You organized exhibitions at the Carré d’Art Musée d’art contemporain in Nîmes in 1994, at the Musée de la Révolution française in 2001 and recently, in 2013, at the Musée de Grenoble, while the MoMA retrospective opened several months later in April 2014. I wanted to start by asking you how you met Sigmar Polke, why you became interested in his work, and how you ended up organizing these exhibitions. You have also taken a particular interest in acquiring some of his works, which can now be found in the collections of various museums.

Guy Tosatto: These are all related but separate subjects. To start from the beginning, my interest in Polke began practically at the same time as my profession as curator, in the middle of the 1980s, when I started working at the Musée départemental d’art contemporain in Rochechouart. It dates more exactly from 1987 when I worked on the group exhibition entitled Le regard du dormeur[1]which I had imagined starting with a text by Georges Didi-Huberman, who had said, “I would very much like to have works by Polke in it.” I already knew of Polke’s work, but this comment induced me to take a closer look and actively seek out works. The previous year Polke had received the Lion d’Or at the Venice Biennale. The German pavilion, as he had conceived it, was a synthesis of his work from the 1980s. He had made a lot of new pieces for the occasion. This event was followed by several exhibitions including one in Paris in 1988[2], organized by Suzanne Pagé, which was totally extraordinary. At that moment, I was well “immersed” in Polke’s work. I had also become aware of the difficulty of procuring his works, as there were virtually none on the market.

May: How did it happen? Who did you borrow the paintings from?

Guy Tosatto: My contact at the time was Ninon Robelin, then director of the Bama Gallery, who had spoken to me a lot about Polke. She was as totally fascinated by the man as by his art. She had exhibited his work in the late 1970s in her gallery and had therefore known him for quite a while. Polke had a lot of affection for her. She was an honest woman with integrity, who was truly committed to artists… a real gallery owner. Of course, she sold art, but I wouldn’t say that was her primary motivation and I believe that Polke was also very sensitive to that. At any rate, it was she who had put me on the trail of a certain number of works for the show I was preparing. And then it was through her that I first established contact with Polke. Afterwards, there was that exhibition at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris and at that moment, Beaux-Artsmagazine, which I had already written for, asked me to write an article on Polke. So I wrote a text several pages long about Polke for Suzanne Pagé’s exhibition that the editorial staff titled, “Painting’s Clever Genius.”[3] I found out later that Polke had read the article and had liked it a lot.

May: He had read it in French?

Guy Tosatto: He had read it in French. Maybe he also got help with it, but he knew more than just the basics in French because he had stayed in the South of France several times. He was a big Francophile and liked French culture a lot. In a way, he felt really good in this country: a country of culture, the country of freedom of expression, of human rights… As with all of the Germans of his generation, the history of Germany in the twentieth century had lastingly marked his political conscience. So those were my first steps in the world of Polke. I didn’t visit the exhibition at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris just once; I went several times. I still had time back then. I was already working at Rochechouart but I was often in Paris. The exhibition had a big effect on me and I tried to acquire a painting for the museum of Rochechouart. That’s when Ninon Robelin told me that Polke was preparing an exhibition on the theme of the French Revolution for the gallery. She had just become associated with Chantal Crousel and expanded the gallery space. That was in 1988. Polke had always been interested in this theme, and since 1989 was the bicentennial of the Revolution, he had decided to work on the subject.

May: How did the idea of working on the French Revolution come about? Was it Polke’s interest in the subject (that was not necessarily concerned with the bicentennial celebrations)? Or was Ninon Robelin the one who came up with it?

Guy Tosatto: I don’t think Ninon Robelin was the one who originally made the choice of this theme because Polke was not the kind of artist you could commission by saying, “I’d like you to make some paintings on this or that subject.” I think things happened more spontaneously than that. Obviously, Ninon Robelin absolutely wanted to do a Polke exhibition. She was opening a new space at that moment with Chantal Crousel. There were high economic and symbolic stakes for them. Whatever the case, I think that it was he who had come up with the idea for the theme, as he was the one who wanted to continue, once he had started the work, and to do another exhibition right away, in 1990, to show the other group of paintings he had done on the same theme. It can be referred to as a cycle of paintings on the French Revolution, with a first part before the bicentennial and the second part after. The paintings, predictably enough, reflect this evolution. The first group of paintings involves all of the mythology around the French Revolution; the second group focuses more precisely on what the bicentennial and its celebrations had made of it, covering even its by-products and their derisory aspect. How all of a sudden, the market system seized the great ideals in order to make money. There’s a very ironic, very critical dimension to the second group of French Revolution paintings.

May: How did you manage to arrange an encounter with Polke in Cologne and how did it go?

Guy Tosatto: I didn’t meet Polke right away. The funny thing is that I went the day after the opening of the Musée d’Art moderne show in Paris in 1988, or the day after that, and Polke was there. He was in the exhibition hall with the journalists. I recognized him but didn’t dare to approach him. We actually met three or four years later in Cologne. I had gone there with Ninon Robelin. She went with me to make sure he would really be there.

May: Because you had made an appointment but he might not have been there?

Guy Tosatto: Right! He used to stand people up. It was his prankster side. Above all, Polke was a truly free man and he wanted to preserve his liberty. That’s why he didn’t have a secretary. He never had an assistant. So he was attentive to everything, received his own mail, read it. You could even call him on the phone. Sometimes he answered his telephone! But he didn’t want to create an organization, which would have facilitated his life but at the same time would have been restricting. I think he quite liked this game with the journalists and the heads of institutions—never being where he was expected to be. Sometimes when we had an appointment with him we weren’t sure to find him at the time or place decided upon. That said, he was in fact there the day I went to Cologne and we spent a really nice time together. I had left Rochechouart, and was already at the Carré d’Art in Nîmes, but it wasn’t open yet. That must have been in 1992.

May: That was the big moment of the Cologne scene, but also almost the end already. Kippenberger was there.

Guy Tosatto: Yes, all of those artists were still present. When I met Polke, he was completely available, so we would go out to dinner. But already at the time he was in the background of the German art scene; he was protecting himself. I think he was so solicited that he preferred to avoid the art world. On the other hand, he kept himself well informed. I used to wonder if he had secret emissaries that went to see what was going on so they could tell him about it afterwards… But I’m exaggerating. Whatever the case, he had a talent for being ubiquitous and he was able to keep tabs on things that were happening in several different places at once. But that was also because he read the press a lot. Every morning, he bought a pile of newspapers: not only the German press, but also the French, American and English press.

He had a magnificent library, which has very happily been preserved, and which also sheds light on who he was. One can also discern this in the French Revolution series, which the French public looked over perhaps a bit too rapidly. That is why my colleague, Alain Chevalier, Director of the Musée de la Révolution française in Vizille, and I wanted to do this exhibition and catalog. This was really a very important moment in Polke’s work. He invested himself and put enormous amounts of time and energy into it. It was a synthesis of all of his research during the 1980s, which opened the way to all of his post-1990 work. I hadn’t seen this cycle as a turning point when I saw the two exhibitions at Crousel and Robelin. At the time we were focused on the new works. We were always being surprised by Polke. We didn’t really know how to place what we were just discovering with regard to what preceded it. It’s only with hindsight, and having worked on the exhibition with Alain Chevalier in 2000, that I realized to what extent this series of paintings was important in his career. And if Polke wanted to do a publication around it, it’s because in his eyes, it was a very special set of paintings into which he had poured a lot of himself, of who he was.

May: Did he talk about these paintings later in interviews?

Guy Tosatto: Very little, because the paintings were all sold immediately. There had been a waiting list and several museums and FRACs (regional collections) bought works. I had been struck by the total absence of French Revolution paintings in the MoMA retrospective. I found out afterwards that this had been due to a financial problem. I know that Jeux d’enfants, the marvelous painting at the Centre Pompidou, had been selected from the beginning. I myself had chosen this painting for the exhibition in Grenoble, and the Centre Pompidou had said, “Ok, the painting will go directly from Grenoble to New York if the timing is too tight.”

May: But in any case, Kathy Halbreich hadn’t envisaged presenting the 22 paintings right?

Guy Tosatto: No, never! I didn’t want to show them again in Grenoble because we had already done that. On the other hand, I insisted on there being a hall in the exhibition with a group of paintings from this series because it seemed indispensable to evoking Polke in the 1980s.

May: We’re going to come back to this series, but can we return to the chronology of the first meeting? What happened after you met him?

Guy Tosatto: To finish with the 1980s, I still bought a very important painting for Rochechouart, À Versailles, à Versailles, one of the four large-format paintings in the cycle, one of which, Jeux d’enfants, had immediately been reserved by the Centre Pompidou. After that the two other paintings were bought by private collectors.

May: And how did discussions about the sale of this painting go, since I imagine that it was already extraordinarily solicited by collectors and foundations?

Guy Tosatto: Yes, but this was still at a time when public collections and museums were favored over quicker sales. The gallerists Chantal Crousel and Ninon Robelin immediately accepted to sell to the museum. The price of the painting was higher than our annual budget and we paid for it over two budgetary years. When I started to develop the programming after the opening of the Carré d’Art in 1993 in Nîmes, I thought of Polke and I contacted him. That’s why I went to see him the first time in Cologne, to ask him if he would accept to do an exhibition in Nîmes. I think that the fact that I had written an article on him a few years earlier, that I had done an exhibition, Le regard du dormeur, with works of his, and that one of his works had consequently been acquired, was proof enough of my profound interest in his work. And so he said yes. But even when Polke accepted to do something, you never knew when it would happen. So I programmed his exhibition for the summer of 1994 and that’s why I went to meet with him fairly regularly in Cologne during the whole preparation phase. As for him, he never came before the hanging of the show at the Carré d’Art. He didn’t know the space. I had brought him plans of course, and I think that he liked the building a lot. The exhibition was magnificent and included a lot of new works. And so when we were going to print the invitations, I talked to Polke on the phone and he said:

— Guy, I need a little more time.

— Yes, Sigmar?

— The paintings aren’t dry yet…

There were often problems with the drying because of the products he used. We postponed the opening of the exhibition almost one whole month. I think he appreciated my calm and understanding attitude.

May: Which would be very rare nowadays, or even impossible in an institution.

Guy Tosatto: Maybe, but with Sigmar Polke you had to be prepared for anything! Then, after the opening, he stayed a whole week in Nîmes and he came back afterwards during the exhibition with his girlfriend. And that’s when our relationship really took shape.

May: Before, you said that he was used to coming to the South of France but was there any particular reason for that? I guess he must have had friends there.

Guy Tosatto: He loved France, and in particular the South… and its wines. I remember an anecdote about New York where he had exhibited at Michael Werner’s. He was presenting works on paper: very colorful and riotously abstract notebook pages. He told me, “Ah, that was my Gigondas period.” And mischievously added, “Gigondas, because the nuclear power plants in the Rhône valley have a very particular effect on the brain.” He also had friends in the South and so he stayed there fairly regularly at one time. I never knew exactly when it was, but the Gigondas period was at the beginning of the 1980s. I think he also came to the South in the 1970s, like so many other young Germans. I remember once during one of our little daytrips from Nîmes, we went to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. He was horrified to see what it had become, because he had memories of Camargue in the 1970s. A lot of German hippie types went there because there was the sea and the sun but it wasn’t the Côte d’Azur. It was different there; it was still natural and wild.

May: Let’s go back to the exhibition at the Carré d’Art. How did it go with the team that was in place? And also, how did the production of the catalog go?

Guy Tosatto: In 1994, I had programmed three exhibitions: Juan Muñoz, Sigmar Polke and Thomas Schütte. For each show, we put out a pretty modest catalog because the budget was earmarked for transport and install above all else. The Polke project was a coproduction with the IVAM of Valencia, the second phase of the exhibition. This being the case, in order to get a precise idea of the contents of the exhibition in Nîmes, one has to refer to the IVAM catalog. And actually, not even really, since in the IVAM catalog there is a series of little paintings that Polke had hung in the staircase of the Carré d’Art that’s missing.

May: And they aren’t in the New York retrospective either?

Guy Tosatto: No, they aren’t either. To go back to the genesis of the project, Polke wanted someone to propose a general theme for it. Personally, my idea was to emphasize the political dimension of his work and I suggested to him that we orient the project in that direction. From there, we got together paintings from the 1980s on subjects like the concentration camps, the French Revolution, and new paintings based on a photo of a Palestinian camp for example, or a child’s drawing made during the war in ex-Yugoslavia. They were very strong political paintings. But in parallel, he had also done a whole series of new paintings full of humor, dreams and poetry like the other side of his personality and his work.

He was really like that. It could never be unequivocal, with just one vision of the world. It was necessarily the thing and its opposite all the time. It permitted him to express reality, the truth of things, which is never as clear as we think it is.

May: Which is why it’s so important to keep certain paintings. I mean, the importance of these exhibitions, once the paintings are disseminated in collections, is harder to understand.

Guy Tosatto: That’s true. Going back to your question about the catalog, we made it in a slightly empirical way. When I spoke to Polke about authors for the catalog, he said, “Bernard Marcadé” because he trusted Marcadé. So when I was thinking about the Polke catalog for Grenoble I called upon Bernard Marcadé once again. Because the exhibition was also a homage to Polke, asking for this author again was a way for me to remain faithful to his memory.

May: When I was looking into who had written seriously about Polke in the 1980s and 1990s, I found only a few people in France. Which is surprising, given how important he was. In the United States, while reading the text by Magnus Schaefer, I realized that he had taken a very careful inventory of the critical writings on the American Polke exhibitions even though it was very difficult. But in France, it’s very different. He did fewer exhibitions too, which I can understand. There were few exhibitions but at the same time, they were very important. But why were there so few commentaries or reactions to these exhibitions?

Guy Tosatto: I continue to think that he was not really understood in all his complexity. He is considered to be a very great artist, a major painter, but I think that his importance in the history of art has not been fully appreciated. Take, for example, Richter, whom I like a lot. He is a very big artist, whom I have also exhibited and socialized with and whose work I have arranged to acquire. His work is very complex, but when all is said and done, there is something almost limpid about it. When one perceives how it works, his way of thinking about and analyzing painting, it’s magnificent because the realization carries with it a certain force and obviousness. With Polke, of course, one can see the principal directions, and discern a sort of system, a personal signature style, as is the case with any artist. But at the same time, he himself wanted to constantly surprise his viewers, because unlike someone like Richter, who goes to his studio every day, Polke had long periods when he didn’t paint, because he didn’t feel the need to do so. On the other hand, as soon as he felt this necessity, he worked relentlessly. He hated doing the same things over and over again. And yet he did things over again because he liked that too. Yes, I know what I’m saying is paradoxical and contradictory but it’s the work that’s like that. I think that for the French mindset it is very difficult to enter into this kind of thinking… the thing and its opposite coexisting at all times. But personally, I find that it’s right on target when it comes to imagination, to reflection our world as it is when we try to grasp it. We tell ourselves, “Oh yes, it’s like this” and then five minutes later, it’s not at all the same thing. I think that that’s an idea that Polke wished to transmit through his work. Which explains why his paintings had to be like living organisms, moving through time and changing according to conditions of temperature or light… and then there was this desire to cross, to penetrate the screen of the visible in order pass over to the other side, to finally understand if there’s an organization behind all that, or not. This kind of method, to the French way of thinking, can sometimes be considered a little obscure.

May: Yes, there was a lack of context for interpretation of the work and no one, besides a few people… you, Bernard Marcadé, Nicolas Bourriaud took the risk of truly understanding Polke’s work. On the other hand, an artist like Kiefer was very well received in France in an unequivocal way.

Guy Tosatto: But that’s because you can associate Kiefer right away with German romanticism, that great flight of lyrical tragedy, with not an ounce of irony. In France it reassures us when a German artist is a little heavy-handed, and Kiefer is the perfect illustration of what German art should be. We stay well within the guidelines and everything is OK… That said, Kiefer is not untalented, of course, like Baselitz and his version of expressionism. Polke was the most Latin German artist. For example he had a very sensual feel for fabric, materials, patterns, textures. He used them in his work but he also liked to surround himself with all that at home.

May: I read in one of your texts for the Carré d’Art catalog that “The French Revolution paintings escape all objective analysis.” I have the impression, having read the texts, that at a certain moment, Polke’s paintings could not be completely analyzed, especially those in the French Revolution series. I wonder how, as an art critic, I can talk about Polke’s work. And I know that he himself was fairly critical of professional art critics. That’s why he chose the authors that he wanted to work with.

Guy Tosatto: I’m not necessarily very proud of what I have been able to write about Polke. […] Because the more time goes by, the more complex his works seem to me. It’s always the same story. You write a text before you visit an exhibition and then afterwards, you live with the paintings for three months. And then, you want to shoot yourself in the head because what you wrote was so terribly inadequate in comparison to what you have before your eyes. Everything is so much more complex than what you so laboriously tried to say in a few sentences. Oh well, I think that this is an experience that a lot of authors have had. For example, with Polke, the descriptive approach is guaranteed to fail. Because the issue in his paintings often lies in something that he was searching for, and that can be found very precisely beyond the visible. What I am saying may sound metaphysical, but he was very preoccupied with these very questions. He was fascinated by certain rites and religions.

He had been to India, to Australia, and all the way to New Guinea. He really experienced all that at a time when it wasn’t yet folkloric. Those experiences affected him a great deal. He was from a protestant culture and had never previously experienced anything like this esoteric vision of all things religious. But at the same time, this fairly archaic relationship to everything sacred influenced him a lot in his work as an artist, as a painter. What is painting? What does it mean to create? His fondness for alchemy also corresponds to an old German tradition, but it’s something he had deep inside of him, that was determining his artistic choices and also sometimes his relationship choices.

May: Yes, that’s what is actually the hardest to understand. Because maybe you have to go back to the books he read, to return to the source.

Guy Tosatto: Indeed. As a matter of fact, in his library, there were a lot of books on religion, all religions… He came from a very religious family; one of his brothers was a pastor. As for him, he was the ugly duckling of this family, in which grace was said before each meal, everyone gathered in the evenings for vigils, and sacred texts were read. He grew up in this atmosphere and then he had his own cultural revolution.

May: Very rapidly, actually, and the period helped.

Guy Tosatto: Yes, of course. But I believe that he would have done it without any help! Excuse me, but you were talking about a time period that was propitious, and I want to go back to something that I think is important. That is, that the French Revolution cycle was done at the same time as the fall of the Berlin wall…The world goes topsy-turvy… a painting is called Le Monde à l’envers, (The World Upside Down) and represents all of these old values going head over heels. This also happens in 1989: the fall of the wall and all of a sudden this world, which he had experienced intensely through his own personal history, with the communist block on one side, the capitalistic block on the other, and Germany cut in half… suddenly, all of that shatters to pieces and a new world has to be invented. And he worked on that, through the prism of the French Revolution, between 1988 and 1990.

May: Are there paintings that evoke the fall of the Berlin wall more explicitly that were done at the moment of the French Revolution series?

Guy Tosatto: Not that I know of. But, on the other hand, afterwards he did a few very ironic paintings about the new horizon towards the East that opened up for the West Germans.

May: The Berlin wall fell in November 1989. The first part of the exhibition opened in December 1988 and the second part opened one year later. So, it could have affected the second series.

The 1990s saw a period of professionalization within the art system during which there were more art critics and the profession of curator started to become more fashionable, more attractive. Polke held a very particular position with regard to the art world during this period. Can we try to talk about this again and try to extract a critical position on this system in the process of mutation?

Guy Tosatto: I’ll use an example: the press conference for the Musée de la Révolution française exhibition in Vizille. A press trip had been organized from Paris and a lot of journalists who were curious to meet Polke took part in it. But Polke didn’t come to the press conference and those journalists all went back home a little disheartened even though they liked the exhibition a lot. There was only one who stayed; he wanted to take his time and enjoy the exhibition, the venue… Polke arrived for the opening at the end of the day and this journalist hit the jackpot because Polke was very relaxed and gave him a lot of his time. He got everything he wanted: an interview, photos even though the paper he worked for was not a first-class publication. That was Polke and his relationship to the system. He was a free man and nobody imposed things on him. He didn’t impose things either. It wasn’t a power struggle. But he simply figured that he had painted his paintings and that he had therefore fulfilled his mission as an artist… From that point, everybody had their role and the journalists just had to look at the paintings and write what they thought about them!

May: Why provide after sales service?

Guy Tosatto: He wanted to stay free from all that. In Nîmes, for example, he was very willing to collaborate and that’s how Philippe Dagen got a meeting with Polke, even though it was extremely rare. It wasn’t in the form of an interview but rather in the form of a conversation, an exchange. So as a result, we had a very nice article in Le Monde, which was rather good for the Carré d’Art and for the exhibition. He had really played the game… completely. But that was also because he was happy to be there, and that I hadn’t put him under any pressure…

May: He didn’t participate in the institutions’ systems of communication.

Guy Tosatto: Polke had done what he was supposed to. He made his paintings and it was up to everybody else to do what they had to do.

May: He would have hated the way things are now. More and more artists are asked to participate in symposia, to produce discourses, texts.

Guy Tosatto: Yes. I don’t think he ever did that. Like he had refused for a certain number of years to participate in documenta. He participated two or three times, but I remember very well that Catherine David absolutely wanted him to be in her programming and he never answered, nor did he answer to the next one for that matter! He had told me, “I’m too old for that now. They should show young artists. I’ve done it; now it’s up to the others.”

May: But he still accepted the MoMA retrospective, which is true recognition for an artist.

Guy Tosatto: He saw that his colleague Richter was in the process of rising to the firmament and he understood that if he didn’t put a little effort into it, he risked being marginalized… Which is the case on the art market. A Richter is magnificent, but his abstract paintings are mass-produced, whereas each of Polke’s paintings is a new story, a new adventure. Mass-producing paintings is at the antipodes of what he thought painting was.

May: It’s true though that then we think of artists like Kippenberger or Krebber, who are exactly aligned with this position. They never produced the same paintings twice.

Guy Tosatto: But they were pretty close at a certain moment, it seems to me. I think that Polke had a real influence on Kippenberger.

May: And apparently, for people like the young Kippenberger, it’s a point of reference.

Guy Tosatto: It’s the reference!

May: That’s what they come to Hamburg for.

Guy Tosatto: By the way, I remember that Polke was very affected by Kippenberger’s death. I saw him the day after Kippenberger died and it was as if he were stunned by the news, even though they didn’t see each other any more.

May: Then there’s Michael Krebber. That’s another story. It’s obvious that there was a very strong bond, even if he didn’t talk too much about it.

Guy Tosatto: Polke truly had an influence in Germany on a certain number of very important artists. The artists I have personally worked with have always spoken about Polke with a lot of admiration.

May: Richter was also heavily criticized at the beginning by Kippenberger, it is the counter-example. In France, we are not as familiar with the debates. Very early on Richter was considered to be an artist who would paint for posterity, for the collectors, for the bourgeois environments. And Polke was the opposite. It was an opposition that was riskier, more dangerous in terms of career. When I was in Germany in the 1990s, I remember that there were two paths: that of Richter and that of Polke.

Guy Tosatto: Why deprive ourselves of one thing for another? I really enjoy seeing a very beautiful Richter, like I really enjoy seeing a very beautiful Polke. I think that Polke is possibly more essential. But those were for me the two poles. It was wonderful to be in relationship with these two very great painters.

May: Another question about the relationship between Polke and the collectors: We have seen that he gave great importance to public institutions. How did he choose his collectors? Did he control the dispersion and sale of his paintings?

Guy Tosatto: No, not really. In this regard, as with all artists, he was no exception. He was very flattered that the collectors were interested in his work and wanted to buy it. He delegated to people who verified if the collector was serious, and to make sure they weren’t going to put his paintings back on the market right away. Here, in this case, he really played the game of seduction. He had to be seduced, and he wanted to seduce too. I have seen that happen fairly regularly, in particular in the United States. But for him it was a game too. In Germany it was different. He had a group of very fervent collectors with whom he maintained a very serious relationship, like Reiner Speck or Frieder Burda…

May: And how was it in France? He had a gallery, which he left at the end of the 1990s. Were there French collectors who followed him?

Guy Tosatto: Yes, Micheline and Claude Renard.

May: Many of whose paintings were in the Grenoble exhibition.

Guy Tosatto: I was lucky enough to buy several works on paper from their daughter, because unfortunately Micheline Renard died just before the exhibition. In France there were only the Renards, and that was from the beginning of the 1980s, very early on in fact. They bought directly from Polke. That’s why a certain number of works are dedicated to them.

May: So still, he kept control over certain paintings. He reserved the right to sell his paintings directly to collectors.

Guy Tosatto: He had all the rights. His relationships with his galleries were such that there was no exclusivity clause. It was the galleries who hoped to have works by Polke to sell, because there were always very few works. But he himself sold works directly, in particular to his German collectors.

May: He called them?

Guy Tosatto: No, it was the collectors who came by the studio regularly, and who tried to see if there was anything there to buy. Polke kept a lot of works for himself too. When he no longer had to sell in order to live, he kept some of his paintings, and amongst them there are some of the most beautiful ones.

May: He managed to maintain a very particular relationship with the galleries, and that must have served as an example to certain artists afterwards.

Guy Tosatto: That’s possible. I think that for the gallerists it wasn’t easy. But he succeeded in preserving that particular liberty.

Translated from French by Patricia Chen

Sigmar Polke,  Paper rolls with  motifs based on the revolution I, 1989,  mixed media on canvas, 78.74 x 74.80 in.

Sigmar Polke, Paper rolls with motifs based on the revolution I, 1989, mixed media on canvas, 78.74 x 74.80 in.

  1. [1] “Le regard du dormeur,” Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart, June 25 –September 20, 1987.
  2. [2] “Sigmar Polke,” Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, ARC, October 20, 1988 – January 1, 1989.
  3. [3] Guy Tossato, “Sigmar Polke: Le Malin génie de la peinture” (Painting’s Clever Genius), Beaux-Arts Magazine, No. 62 (November 1988), p. 66-71. Reprint in Mariette Althaus (ed.) (with Xavier Douroux), Sigmar Polke et les esprits supérieurs (Dijon : Les Presses du réel, 2015), 153-156.
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► From the same author
Preface in May #21
Preface in May #20
Preface in May #19
Preface in May #18
Interview with Ilaria Bussoni. On the symposium “Sensible Commons” at GNAM, Rome in May #17
Preface in May #16
Maison Artists Space. Interview with Stefan Kalmár in May #15
Preface in May #15
Preface in May #17
Preface in May #14
Politics in the Anthropocene: A Conversation between Stephanie Wakefield and Antek Walczak in May #13
Preface in May #13
The Stranger and the Margin. Interview with Roy Genty in May #12
“Project Unité” in Firminy.
Interview with Yves Aupetitallot
in May #12
Preface in May #12
Preface in May #11
Preface in May #10
Preface in May #9
Preface in May #8
Interview with Olivier Zahm in May #7
Preface in May #7
Preface in May #6
Preface in May #5
Preface in May #4
Preface in May #3
Preface in May #2
Preface in May #1