Sigmar Polke employed the central image of a watchtower in a series of paintings to suggest the horrifying realities of government controls and surveillance. Watchtowers stood near the wall separating communist East and democratic West Germany for much of the late 20th century, as well as in the concentration camps built by Adolf Hitler during World War II. The watchtower is a symbolic reminder of Germanys troubled past, from the horrors of the war to the struggles for reunification.
The image itself is similarly complex. Polke uses a method akin to photography to produce a painting not simply with pigments, but also through the chemical reaction of silver oxide on the surface of the canvas. Here the watchtower is a ghostly presence cloaked in an evanescent haze, bearing strange, changing overtones of green and purple. The image can be seen only from certain vantage points; even when visible, it is oddly mute, crudely outlined without any effort to reproduce the details of its actual appearance. The result is apparitional, transcending the historical facts, and creating a sense of the foreboding darkness and fear felt during the nightmare of this recent history.