Sigmar Polke
The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible I (Tellurium Terrestrial Material), 1988

Artwork Info

Artwork title
The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible I (Tellurium Terrestrial Material)
Artist name
Sigmar Polke
Date created
tellurium and artificial resin on canvas
158 in. × 118 in. (401.32 cm × 299.72 cm)
Date acquired
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
© Estate of Sigmar Polke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany
Permanent URL
Artwork status
On view on floor 6 as part of German Art After 1960.

Audio Stories

What mystical traditions influenced these paintings?

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This is part of Sigmar Polke’s series of five paintings entitled The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible. 

The title comes from a Native American source. 


Curator Gary Garrels.  


The Germans, historically, have been fascinated by the native cultures of North America since the early nineteenth century. And I think it’s because of the romantic, mystical tradition in German culture that German people identify very much with the land. 

In the process of making each of these works, Polke incorporated a different mineral element found only in the New World.  


So, in The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible, he’s using resins as a base for the painting and then toning them and coloring them with mineral elements that then in turn take on a kind of allegorical or mystical or mythical meaning. They might be materials that come from the deep bowels of the center of the earth that have erupted up to the surface, or they might be the dust of a meteor. 


By using these materials, Polke pays homage to the Native American understanding of time. He reminds us that the span of an individual human life is very brief compared to that of the landscape we inhabit. 

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Other Works by Sigmar Polke

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