In 1967, Sigmar Polke crafted a rustic structure called Potato House (Kartoffelhaus). The piece is a lean-to made of wood-lath grids that are reinforced by hundreds of lumpy, matte-brown potatoes. Riffing on the precision favored by the Minimalists, Polke’s use of potatoes adds a brash roughness and clumsiness to the otherwise sleek construction.
Potatoes, which were a dietary staple in postwar Germany, made their way into several of Polke’s mixed-media artworks. Three of these pieces are included in “Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010,” a retrospective of Polke’s work that is on view now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition will run through August 3, yet these edible tubers have an estimated shelf life of just one month.
When I walked through the show last week, I wondered what the plan for these perishable potatoes is. Over time, would they shrivel? Would they rot? Or worse, would they smell? My curiosity piqued, I contacted MoMA curatorial assistant Magnus Schaefer to find out just how the museum’s staff plans to keep Polke’s potatoes looking fresh for the duration of the show . . .
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