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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann

The Passenger

The Passenger
titled and dated 'The Passenger 1983' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
98 x 78 in. (248.9 x 198.6 cm.)
Painted in 1983.
Pat Hearn Gallery, New York, 1995
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Armstrong, "Mary Heilmann: The Clock Tower," Artforum, vol. 22, no. 7, March 1984 (illustrated).
F. Ted Castle, Art in America, 1984, pp. 185-186 (illustrated).
P. McCoy, “A Modern Lexicon: The Work of Mary Heilmann,” ARTS, November 1989, p. 50.
"Vor saftiger Vitalität strotzend. Arbeiten von Mary Heilmann im Zürcher Haus für konstruktive und konkrete Kunst," Vorarlberger Nachrichten, June 1997, p. 72 (illustrated).
D. van den Boogerd, Mary Heilmann: Good Vibrations, Cologne, 2012, p. 57 (illustrated).
New York, MoMA PS1, Mary Heilmann, November-December 1983.
New York, Pat Hearn Gallery, Pat Hearn Gallery: A Selected Survey, 1983-1995, March-May 1995.
Saint-Etienne, Musée d'Art Moderne, Abstraction/Abstractions. Géométries Provisoires, January-March 1997, p. 41 (illustrated).
Zurich, Haus für konstruktive und konkrete Kunst, Mary Heilmann. This and That, May-July 1997 (illustrated).
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Abstract Vision, February-April 2008, p. 37, no. 14 (illustrated).
Maastricht, Bonnefanten Museum, Mary Heilmann, Good Vibrations, October 2012-January 2013, pp. 57 and 221 (illustrated).
London, Whitechapel Gallery, Mary Heilmann. Looking at Pictures, June-August 2016, p. 37 (illustrated).
Annandale-on-Hudson, CCS Bard Hessel Museum of Art, The Conditions of Being Art. Pat Hearn Gallery and American Fine Arts, Co. (1983-2004), June-December 2018.
Sale room notice
Please note this work is titled and dated ‘The Passenger 1983’ on the stretcher.

Brought to you by

Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist AVP, Co-Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

Mary Heilmann is among the world’s greatest living painters. She combines an intimate, art historical relationship to paint with stories and memories from her own life, as well as her love for music. The Passenger (1983) is like a sunset over placid waters, a vision of calm in a tumultuous world. Inspired by the 1977 song “The Passenger” by punk legend Iggy Pop, we take a ride with Heilmann through the regimented forms of cities to the lyrical magic of the sea. A large-scale canvas at about eight feet by six-and-a-half-feet, The Passenger represents an essential moment in Heilmann’s career at the height of her reinvention of painting. It was included in her major solo exhibitions Mary Heilmann: This and That (1997) at the Haus für Konstruktive und Konkrete Kunst, Zürich, and Looking at Pictures (2016) at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, as well as important group shows at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Saint-Etienne (1997) and the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College (2018). The Passenger, a bold step into a world of color and light, takes us along with it into the horizon.

Informed by references as diverse as ceramics, surf and car culture, the Beat Movement, Color Field painting, Minimalism, and Abstract Expressionism, Heilmann has never been afraid to draw from art history with rigor, joy, and a penchant for fun. Composed of reds, yellows, oranges, and blues partially bounded by black lines, The Passenger is a window of sorts, perhaps looking out onto a California beach where Heilmann spent her youth. Drips and curved lines amount to a scene that is not so much delineated as flowing within itself, uniting space, color, and form in a sensual grid like a stained-glass window. Light yellow presides over the canvas at its apex, while earthier hues draw the eye downward into the painting’s beating heart. The Passenger also has a musical quality, like surreal sheet music, ready to be re-mixed into a new sound altogether. Swooning, horizontal, and chromatically unexpected like Claude Monet’s late work, itself returning constantly to the water, The Passenger runs like a stream from the artist’s world into ours, uniting us forever in paint.

Metaphors of the ocean are apt, Heilmann’s ebbing and flowing colors becoming moments of self-reference as she returns to these forms throughout her career. As art historian Briony Fer writes, “Water and waves: the paintings act out that double movement over and over again, like a dive, soaring and plummeting at the same time…we are watching how paintings work, giving them time to do their work” (B. Fer, “Mary Heilmann: Painting, Her Way,” Mary Heilmann: Looking at Pictures, exh. cat., Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2016, p. 79-80). The Passenger, as its title suggests, is a record of time, a chance to slowly relish the process by which Heilmann creates her dreamy landscapes. She shares a part of herself with us, since her paintings are above all autobiographical, “I look at paintings and try to sort them out—mine and other people’s—I get a feeling from a painting and then I try to figure out how it made me feel that way” (M. Heilmann and R. Bleckner, “Mary Heilmann by Ross Bleckner,” BOMB Magazine, April 1, 1999). Melodic representations of feeling, Heilmann’s paintings, as exemplified by The Passenger, ask the viewer to narrate their own lives and find within their histories moments of beauty and introspection. This is an act of generosity, an outstretched hand from Heilmann herself to accompany her in treating our emotional lives with seriousness and empathy.

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