No artist has come up with anything to match History of Everything, Sigmar Polke’s profound response to the age of Osama bin Laden, and this book does a flawless job of illuminating his headspinningly bold associative leaps. Solid reproductions and remarkably lucid essays by art star Dave Hickey and cocurator Chalres Wylie guide us through what obviously was a knockout show at the Dallas and Tate museums. Known as Richter’s rival, Germany’s abominable shaman spinning variations on Rosenquist, Rauschenberg, and benday-dot painter Lichtenstein, Polke makes more than mischief and “Polke dots” here: it adds up to a masterpiece.
The central image comes from a newspaper diagram of a spy satellite relaying the image of Al Qaida fleeing on horseback to CIA and RAF HQ and the US Army in Afghanistan. The picture rhymes with two 19th-century engravings, one showing a uniformed Frenchman astride a deer on a platform attached to a balloon, the other a German whose balloon is guided by eagles hitched up like horses. Today, machinery has displaced flesh: the steeds are earthbound, the balloons and eagles replaced by Predator drones, the balloonist’s eyes with cameras and mechanical imagemaking. The halftone reduces the Al Qaida horsemen to a cartoon, then a still tinier inkblot. In his huge abstract painting I Live in My Own World, But It’s Ok, They Knew Me Here, Polke further simplifies them into a blotch that resembles a flaw in a halftone, a mechanical artifact. It’s all about patterns: in a painting of a halftone of a cowboy checking out a target, says Dickey, “the circular shape of the buckshot p! ellet, the pattern of circular holes the pellets make in the target, and the benday dots that constitute their photo representation flash back and forth in our perception in such a way that shooting guns, shooting pictures, and looking at pictures are proposed as analogous activities.” This book teaches you a new way to see. Tim Appelo