BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
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Property from a Distinguished German Private Collector
BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)

Ohne Titel

BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
Ohne Titel
signed and dated 'Palermo 69' (on the stretcher)
dyed cotton mounted on linen
78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. (200 x 200 cm.)
Executed in 1969.
Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Munich
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1969
T. Moeller, Palermo. Bilder und Objekte. Werkverzeichnis, vol. 1, Bonn, 1995, n.p., no. 113 (illustrated).
Krefeld, Museum Haus Lange, Palermo: Stoffbilder 1966-1972, Malerei auf Papier 1975-1977, November 1977-January 1978, no. 27.
Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Brennpunkt Düsseldorf 1962-1987, May-September 1987.
Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Palermo, October 2007-January 2008, p. 51, no. 113 (illustrated).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; New York, Dia:Beacon and Annandale-on-Hudson, Center for Cultural Studies, Bard College, Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977, October 2010-October 2011, pp. 146-147 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

“Palermo discovered single-color, industrially dyed fabrics which could be purchased from department stores for next to nothing. These cheap, everyday, commonplace materials were now the medium through which modernism expressed itself. The traditional parameters of painting were now playfully abandoned, not least the frames.” - (K. Schrenk, Palermo, Bonn 1995, p. 25).

Between 1966 and 1972, Blinky Palermo created a bold series of work that addressed compositional traditions while eschewing paint entirely. He developed a conceptual bridge between historical canvases and new ideas about material and objecthood. Ohne Titel is an extraordinary example of his Stoffbilder series that builds on the legacy of landscape paintings and long-established formats while pushing the art form to its outer limits. Using color as a readymade, the artist dispersed with any allusion to the artist’s hand in an effort to more fully explore materiality and form. "Palermo discovered single-color, industrially dyed fabrics which could be purchased from department stores for next to nothing. These cheap, everyday, commonplace materials were now the medium through which modernism expressed itself. The traditional parameters of painting were now playfully abandoned…" (K. Schrenk, Palermo, Bonn 1995, p. 25). Examining the idea of a horizon line without any illusionary painting or sense of depth, this untitled work exhibits a visual familiarity with roots in the real world while also remaining completely abstract. Realized during a time of renewal in German history, the Stoffbilder works speak to a convergence of everyday life and more heady conceptual practices.

Arranged upon a perfectly square stretcher, two color fields meet at a horizontal edge two-thirds up the composition. The lower, larger section is an even expanse of raw canvas, its neutral tone buoying the smaller section above. The upper third is given over to a rich rectangle of burgundy cloth. Its solid woven plane exudes an enticing sense of depth that counters the lighter, brighter bottom area. Other examples from this series vacillate in their ratio, but the horizontal arrangement remains dominant, making this particular canvas an archetype of the series. Once the pairings of cloth were established and the composition was fixed, Palermo’s first wife, Ingrid Kohlhöfer, would sew the elements together in a straight line on a sewing machine. Later, Gerhard Richter’s wife Ema Eufinger would continue this practice. The use of manufactured materials and the labor of others to create a finished work places Palermo’s series firmly in the camp of conceptual art with a nod to the object-based, industrial inquiries of Minimalism. Stepping away from traditional painterly roles of authorship, Palermo embraced an idea-based practice where many factors came together to form a finished composition. Furthermore, by stretching the cloth around a support and leaving no trace of the artist’s hand (as even the stitching was ultimately done by machine), the artist brought issues of art and objecthood to the fore.

In the early 1960s, Palermo enrolled at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie where he worked alongside and became friends with fellow students Gerhard Richter, Konrad Lueg, and Sigmar Polke. The four young artists shared studios and became acolytes of Joseph Beuys, whose teachings helped them to break away from more traditional forms of art in favor of practices that prioritized ideas about material, form, and action. Palermo in particular was drawn to issues of spatial relationships that exist between form and color and began working on arrangements that dispensed with any sort of figuration or gesture in favor of pure color and shape. In 1962, the painter Kazimir Malevich’s pamphlet Die gegenstandslose Welt was republished in German, and several of his works were acquired by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Combined with the critical conversation over the dominance of oil paint on canvas in Beuys’s classroom, Malevich’s work prompted Palermo to explore the very building blocks of his practice while also expanding beyond traditional materials.

Palermo’s oeuvre is unique, yet it fits firmly into the wider conversation of artistic development in the mid-twentieth century. The use of hard edges and pure colors put him in line with American artists like Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly, while his use of monumental scale and commitment to the flat surface of the work bring allusions to Abstract Expressionism. Works such as this act as a link between the Modernist ideals of the latter and the reductive nature of Minimalists like Frank Stella and Donald Judd. “Palermo’s ultimate achievement may be said to be his liberation of form and colour from subordination to a greater, authorially arranged, compositional whole or from association with representational imagery. In every phase of his career, he proposed alternative methods by which, in effect, to redraw the line between real and painted space” (A. Rorimer, “Blinky Palermo: Objects, Stoffbilder, Wall Paintings” in Blinky Palermo, exh. cat., Barcelona, Museo d’Art Contemporani (and travelling), 2002, p. 51). Focusing on color as a discrete element rather than something in service to the materials or illusionary depictions of his forebears, Palermo established a precedent for future generations of artists.
Blinky Palermo, Düsseldorf, 1965. Photo: Ute Klophaus, Wuppertal.
Before visiting New York in the early 1970s, the artist was very much entrenched in the societal shift of postwar Germany. Scouring fabric stores for materials, he was drawn to the bright colors that were popular with buyers and spoke to the zeitgeist of consumer excess at home and abroad. Art historian and prominent Palermo scholar Christine Mehring noted, “The cloth pictures convey Palermo's passion for color and its combinations…The fabrics were common stock at a time when bold colors dominated interior decoration, clothing, and advertising, reflecting the progressive and optimistic spirit that had captured the German imagination despite the waning of the postwar economic miracle. In fact Palermo may have abandoned the silks he initially used for these works in part because they looked too precious—not common enough, not straight out of his neighbor's living room” (C. Mehring, “Four of a Kind: The Art of Blinky Palermo, Artforum, October 2002, p. 139).

Rather than fall into the experimental, meticulous color studies of fellow German and artistic predecessor Josef Albers, Palermo’s choices of color speak to a greater cultural movement and the time in which they were made. They are about color and form and material, but these things are inextricably linked to the era and place in which they were made due to the artist’s reliance on readymade materials. Ohne Titel is at once a timeless composition about the formal characteristics of painting while also acting as a marker of a specific time and culture seen through the eyes of an artist immersed in change.

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