Former Laureates

Sigmar Polke

Sigmar Polke


The German artist Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) received the Erasmus Prize for his vivid and creative contribution to European art. His work is difficult to categorize because of its inventiveness and diversity in terms of not only theme and visual language but also use of techniques and materials. Polke enhances centuries-old European painting techniques by combining them with photographs and photochemical materials and applying the latest reproduction processes. His work displays a critical interest in the many aspects of reality: contemporary and historical, mythical and rational. He often expresses the magical, enchanting and unpredictable. Polke regularly uses references to the past: to works by such artists as Dürer and Goya as well as to fairytales and old Laterna Magica stories. His experimental use of chemicals and minerals enables him to produce unexpected forms which he then combines with figurative images. Even the carrier of the image can play a role in his works, when the ‘canvas’ is, as it were, a transparent skin painted on both sides but leaving the canvas stretcher visible.

From 1961 to 1967, after working in a stained glass factory, Sigmar Polke studied at the art academy of Düsseldorf. This was a period of social, cultural and artistic change and Polke's work makes satirical statements about the consumer society, the post-war political scene in Germany, and classical artistic conventions. After 1970, he travelled extensively as a photographer. From 1977 to 1991 he was Professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. Exhibitions of his work are held regularly in Europe and the United States.

Sigmar Polke exhibition

The exhibition of the German artist and Erasmus Prize winner Sigmar Polke in 1994.