Sigmar Polke's Agates
Sigmar Polke, who died last June, apprenticed as a stained glass painter before going on to art school and studying under Joseph Beuys. The work we know him best by is heavily layered, referential work - drawings over drawings so that a dense surface appears to be made of many transparent and translucent screens, all holding different kinds of information.
Sculpturally he worked with deeply, geologically romantic, translucent materials such as jade, quartz and amber. His last work was a set of windows for the Grossmünster Cathedral in Zurich (2006-2009), five of which are drawn from Old Testament figural descriptions, seven are thinly sliced agate held in place as with traditional stained glass by lead track.
The windows conflate narrative, biblical time and geologic time in a most graceful way, all held within the frame of the 11th century Romanesque stone cathedral. There is a book about them with a number of essays: Marina Warner et al. Fenster-Windows for the Grossmünster Zürich. Parkett, 2009.
I think as with most of the art I love and which I have never actually seen, it is the concept of these works which appeals. I know there would be a phenomenological intensity, and here with the agate windows, a spiritual space that one can only experience by being there. This is the ongoing problem with art in the age of reproduction, we only get a diagram of what a work is. It will have to do – for me I'd rather have the diagram than not know about this work at all.