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Ambivalence and Double Vision in Sigmar Polke’s “Goya” Series (1982-84)


This essay examines the German artist Sigmar Polke’s series of photographs known as the “Goya” series, or Goya (Die Alten), that was made between 1982 and 1984. The subject of the series is Francisco Goya’s allegory of vanitas, Time (1812). Polke’s work is often recognized by its ironic, witty and experimental maneuvers. Not as well-known, however, is Polke’s interest in making works of art that transform over time, blur the distinction between photography and painting, and raise questions about the agency of art. The “Goya” series is emblematic of these overarching concerns. This essay compares the themes and techniques found in the “Goya” series with other works made by Polke spanning his career. The ambivalent nature of Polke’s art calls for a continued reassessment of his practice across formal and chronological divisions.

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