Hirshhorn Museum Opens Blinky Palermo Retrospective

The Hirshhorn is to be the premiere East Coast venue for the first U.S. retrospective of work by noted postwar abstract painter Blinky Palermo (German, b. Leipzig, 1943; d. Maldives, 1977). Although the artist’s reputation is well established in Europe and he has influenced generations of American artists, his work has rarely been shown in North America.

On view at the Hirshhorn Feb. 24–May 15, “Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977” introduces viewers to the full range of the artist’s practice. Organized by Dia Art Foundation, where an in-depth selection of Palermo’s works are featured in its permanent collection, and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, the retrospective began a yearlong tour at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last fall (Oct. 31, 2010–Jan. 16) and, following the Hirshhorn’s presentation, will make a final stop for concurrent exhibitions at Dia:Beacon’s Riggio Galleries and CCS Bard (June 25–Oct. 31). The curator is Lynne Cooke.

“Like Yves Klein, Blinky Palermo received critical acclaim in Europe for his contribution to the development of 20th-century art,” said Kerry Brougher, the Hirshhorn’s deputy director and chief curator. “Yet despite the fact that Palermo lived in the United States for several years and engaged with the work of American abstract artists such as Brice Marden, Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman, he has not received due recognition here. The Hirshhorn is delighted to be a part of this national tour, which gives the American public a comprehensive picture of Palermo’s achievement.”

Palermo investigated and challenged the fundamentals of painting throughout his brief yet prolific career—he died suddenly at age 33—questioning not only its conventional materials and traditional format and structure but its very definition. His practice is notable for his steadfast commitment to the medium during a period and in a context in which it was widely contested as a viable art form. He was known for engaging with the work of both European and American abstract painters as well as for his openness to the ideas and techniques of other artists, including his teacher, Joseph Beuys, fellow students Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, diverse predecessors like Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, Kasimir Malevich and Barnett Newman, as well as American contemporaries Marden, Martin and Ryman. This exhibition presents approximately 70 works, predominantly on loan from private and public lenders in Germany, many of which have never before been on view in North America, that reveal his influences and the independent course he charted. The pieces are installed in roughly chronological order, providing an in-depth examination of the evolution of Palermo’s aesthetic, and include examples from all of his major series: “Objects” (1964–74), Stoffbilder [Cloth Pictures] (1966–72), documentation of site-specific wall drawings and paintings (1968–73) and examples of his late Metallbilder [Metal Pictures] (1974–76).

Shortly after joining Beuys’ class at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1964, Palermo began making what he termed “Objects”: painted entities, often using found materials, that take on quasi-sculptural properties. In each of these works, the interaction between the piece and the space in which it is installed is integral to the viewer’s experience of it. Begun in mid-1966, the Stoffbilder constitute a second distinctive body of work. These disarmingly radical pieces, some monochromatic and others comprising multiple hues, are made from lengths of fabric purchased in department stores. They reveal him to be a gifted colorist and a singular successor to artists such as Henri Matisse and Mark Rothko. In his installation work, the artist engaged with specific sites making wall paintings and drawings that engaged the architectural context, animating its spaces. These concurrent modes more or less came to an end in 1973 when Palermo relocated to Manhattan, where he set up a studio that he would maintain for the remainder of his life. Here, he began to create multipartite painted compositions on aluminum panels that were anchored slightly off the wall to enhance the works’ vivid palette. Palermo’s signature series of acrylic paintings on metal culminated in his most monumental work, “To the People of New York City” (1976).

Image: Hirshhorn Museum

About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian Institution’s museum of international modern and contemporary art, has nearly 12,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, mixed-media installations, works on paper and new media works in its collection. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs that explore the art of our time. Located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W., the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (except Dec. 25). Admission to the galleries and special programs is free. For more information about exhibitions and events, please visit hirshhorn.si.edu. To request accessibility services, please contact Kristy Maruca at [email protected] or (202) 633-2796, preferably two weeks in advance.

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