Blinky Palermo at the Hirshhorn

Blinky Palermo, Untitled, 1964 | Oil on canvas, 37 3/8 x 31 3/4 inches. Collection Ströher, Darmstadt. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

The work of German artist Blinky Palermo (1943-1977) can be generally classified into four cohesive groupings: Objects, Stoffbilder (Cloth Pictures), Wall Drawings and Paintings, and Metal Pictures. Like his contemporaries Frank Stella, Robert Ryman, and Richard Tuttle, Palermo interest lied in probing the conceptual limits of painting by exploring unconventional materials, and he did so with an uncommon curiosity for the wide-ranging strategies of his peers and predecessors. Joseph Beuys, his mentor and instructor at the Dusseldorf Art Academy, labeled Palermo’s openness to a variety of media as “porosity.” Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977, currently on display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., provides an opportunity for closer inspection of the artist’s ambitious technical versatility.  —Matthew Smith, D.C. Contributor

Blinky Palermo. TOP: Coney Island II, 1975 | Acrylic paint on aluminum. Four parts, each: 10 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches; overall: 10 1/2 x 57 7/8 inches. Collection Ströher, Darmstadt. BOTTOM: Komposition mit 8 roten Rechtecken [Composition with 8 Red Rectangles], 1964 | Oil paint and graphite on canvas. 37 3/4 x 43 3/4 inches. Collection Olga Lina and Stella Liza Knoebel. Images © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photos: Jens Zieh.

Palermo’s first retrospective in the U.S. — he was considered a leading artist of his generation in Germany, but struggled to make a name for himself during his time in America — includes early abstract paintings that do not easily fit within the four groupings described above. The exhibition also includes Palermo’s magnum opus, To the People of New York City, an installation of approximately 40 aluminum panels that requires at least 275 feet of wall space. Considered the masterwork of Palermo’s Metal Pictures series, To the People... was produced after the artist’s return to Germany as a tribute to the city he loved.

Blinky Palermo. TOP: To the People of New York City, 1976 | Installation view at Dia:Beacon, Courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York, 2003. Acrylic paint on aluminum. 15 parts, including 40 panels ranging from 8 1/4 x 6 3/8 inches to 39 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches. Photo: Bill Jacobson. BOTTOM: Graue Scheibe [Gray Disk], 1970 | Oil paint and synthetic paint on cotton on wood-core plywood. 5 3/4 x 10 1/2 x 3/4 inches. Collection Olga Lina and Stella Liza Knoebel. Photo: Jens Ziehe. Images © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Blinky Palermo, Blaue Scheibe und Stab [Blue Disk and Staff], 1968 | Fabric tape on wood. Private collection. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Jens Ziehe.

Curated by Lynne Cooke, Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977 was jointly organized by DIA Art Foundation and the Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS), Bard College. Following a stint at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LCAMCA), the exhibition will be on view at the Hirshhorn through May 15, and then jointly at Dia:Beacon and CSS Bard through October 31 2011.

Matthew Smith is an artist and writer in Washington, DC and a frequent contributor to DCist.


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