Sigmar Polke
Untitled, 2003

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Sigmar Polke
Date created
oil and resin on fabric
119 1/4 in. × 158 1/2 in. (302.9 cm × 402.59 cm)
The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Photo credit
Courtesy Michael Werner, Inc., New York
© 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

Hear what a professional magician sees in this painting

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SFX: A bit of Victorian harpsichord, perhaps, atmospheric and intentionally stagy. 



On the left-hand side, there’s this beautiful curtain, or drape, done in the thin lines of a woodcut style. It feels like I’m looking into a room. 


[Coming in over the top of his previous comment] 



My name is Christian Cagigal. I am a magician, storyteller. And I’ve spent my entire life studying illusion, and the history of magic in all of its forms.  


I’m seeing what looks like a magician. He’s got one hand up in the air with a wand; one hand down low. He’s making this spirit appear. Maybe a woman, a cloaked figure. The way the spirit is drawn, it’s very reminiscent of the old 1700 and 1800s magic lantern shows, where you would cut out silhouettes of ghosts and put them in front of a light, the magic lantern. And you would make these shadow plays up on the wall.  


What I also see is that this magician has drawn out a circle of protection that’s he’s standing in with his items. That circle of protection is what you would draw out when you’re trying to contact the spirits. There’s a book. There’s a skull. There’s two candles. There’s a chalice. 


This is like all the tropes and the ideas of wizards, and alchemy, and the spiritualist movement. He’s harkening back to an era when magic, and art, and science, and religion were still wrapped up together.  


It’s everything from a séance to watching the ghosts dance in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.  


What I’m seeing here is someone who’s taking canvas, and wood, and drawings to create this illusion that transports me into another realm. That is inherently a magician. This is inherently a magic trick, and-and a sacred magic trick.  


So well done, Sigmar, well done. You have fooled a magician.

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Audio Description

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This is Sigmar Polke’s Untitled from 2003, approximately ten-feet high and 13-feet wide, this monumental canvas painted in oil and resin on fabric is tinted a golden yellow with black, white and gray lines, creating the images. At the center of the painting, two figures stand facing each other. On the right, a bearded man is dressed in a floor length robe with a sash across his upper body.

He wears a thick fur hat around his forehead. In his left hand, he dangles a covered cup-shaped container on a chain emitting spiraling puffs of incense. In his right hand, he waves a long wand over the head of the second figure, who wears a heavy robe with a hood. The figure on the right is rendered in black lines.

The figure on the left is drawn in pale gray, as if transparent, like a ghost. The ghostly figure raises its arms towards the magician. On the floor between them are several ritualistic objects: two candlesticks with burning candles, a skull, a hardcover book, a picture and a goblet. The floor is marked by two wide, concentric circles that outline the area where the two figures are standing.

The room is rendered in simple lines. A series of rectangles indicating a door to the right and wall panels behind the figures. At the left edge of the painting, a white curtain hangs in the corner as if the entire scene is a stage play within a proscenium. Notably, the canvas is thin enough that the wooden frame behind it shows through the image.

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Other Works by Sigmar Polke

See other works by Sigmar Polke

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