Serge Poliakoff

A Retrospective Hommage to Peter Ade

27 April8 July 2007

The begining of the non-representational art

After World War II, non-objective painting rises to dominance within the visual arts. Stimulated by the cold war – whose propaganda forges a strong link between abstraction and freedom, and between realism and dictatorship – the establishment both in Europe and the USA endorses abstraction. In the 1950s, Paris becomes one last time a global artistic center, and the compositions of a Russian immigrant working there, still characterize this triumph of the so-called second School of Paris.


Serge Poliakoff, born in 1900, leaves his native Moscow in 1917, due to the turmoil caused by the October Revolution. A long and adventurous path finally leads him to Paris, the city where, with the exception of only few years, he will live for the rest of his life. First he earns his livelihood by playing guitar in cabarets. But personal contacts to artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Freundlich or Robert and Sonia Delaunay, confront him with various exponents of the avant-garde. He attends art schools in Paris and London, and dedicates himself ever more to painting.

After some figurative beginnings, he soon finds his personal mode of expression with its signature dominance of color. Over the years, he reduces his palette more and more, almost to the extent of monochronism. But his use of yellow, red, and blue remains constant, which not only reveals his indebtedness to mediaeval stained glass windows, but also to fauvism and orphism. It is this premise to which Serge Poliakoff remains faithful with an impressive continuity. French and international exhibitions and rewards mark his augmenting success. He dies on October 12, 1969 in Paris.

compositions of color

The basis of Poliakoffs work consists of simple, puzzle-like connecting shapes that form compositions supported by the effect of the pure materiality of his use of color. His Russian background and his early encounter with icons, as well as his intense occupation with music and rhythm, form an important impetus for his art. Poliakoff’s success is mostly based on the harmony and luminosity of his subtle form-compositions, which he realizes in both a consistent and unique manner. These compositions of color values find their equivalent in musical tonality and are filled with an almost sacred harmony. Today, Poliakoff is already very much regarded a classic. In Germany, however, his work was relatively little seen, which maked a retrospective long overdue. Together with the Kunsthalle in Emden, and with the artist’s son, Alexis Poliakoff, a survey consisting of some 100 paintings and gouaches has been assembled. The initiative for this project, however, derived from Peter Ade, the first director of the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, who at old age, died in 2006. This Munich presentation was therefore dedicated to him. After the appearance in 2005 of the first volume of the catalogue raisonné by Alexis Poliakoff, the second volume appeared in tandem with this exhibition. The Munich based Hirmer Verlag published the richly illustrated exhibition catalogue, which includes texts by Katharina Henkel, Siegfried Gohr, Karin Koschkar, Nils Ohlsen, Alexis Poliakoff and Gérard Schneider.

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