BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
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Property from the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Collection
BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)

Ohne Titel

BLINKY PALERMO (1943-1977)
Ohne Titel
signed and dated 'Palermo 69' (on the reverse)
dyed cotton mounted on muslin
78 x 78 in. (198.1 x 198.1 cm.)
Executed in 1969.
Galerie Heiner Friedrich, Cologne
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owners, 1986
T. Moeller, Palermo. Bilder und Objekte. Werkverzeichnisvol. 1, Bonn, 1995, p. 111, no. 98 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Beginning in 1966, the German artist Blinky Palermo created a small group of paintings that would become known as his Stoffbilder or “fabric” paintings. This exceptional body of work is now considered to be the artist’s greatest achievement, with most of the surviving examples now found in major museum collections around the world. The present painting, Ohne Titel, is one of the few remaining Stoffbildder left in private hands, an early example that epitomizes Palermo’s search for the spiritual possibilities of pure color. He used color as a “readymade,” opening up new and exciting possibilities for abstract painting at a time when Germany wrestled with both its past and its future. Palermo found a way forward, and in many ways he developed parallel strategies to the Minimalist and Conceptual artists working in the U.S. at the time. Ohne Titel comes with the exceptional provenance of having been in the collection of Emily and Jerry Spiegel. Internationally recognized as pre-eminent collectors of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Emily and Jerry Spiegel devoted the last 30 years of their lives to patronage of the arts.

Much of Palermo’s work was steeped in the “marks of its time,” but on the whole, his output was extraordinarily prescient—almost preternaturally ahead of the curve. He gave pure color a tangible, material weight whilst also allowing it to transcend its physical limitations and enter into the viewer’s space. He essentially forged a new spiritual and mystical relationship with painting that remains one of the most profound contributions of twentieth-century art. Such is the case in Ohne Titel, a monumentally-scaled, radiant canvas in which Palermo invokes the colors of orange and black in ways that are interesting, profound, and very clever. The painting itself is human-scaled, such that standing before its six-and-a-half foot expanse has the effect of engulfing the viewer in broad fields of pure color. The colors themselves seem to rise up and levitate beyond their physical barriers. Upon prolonged viewing, however, the fibrous texture of the cloth pulls the viewer back into the physical and material truth of the painting’s fabric surface. This dynamic interplay between the phenomenological effects of pure color and the ordinariness of the fabric lies at the heart of these important paintings.

The radical nature of Palermo’s Stoffbilder and his willingness to incorporate unusual or non-traditional materials is undoubtedly related to his foundational classwork with the artist Joseph Beuys, who he studied with at the Kunstakademie Dϋsseldorf from 1962 to 1967. Palermo was one of the original Beuysritter, or “Knights of Beuys,” who took classes with the maverick art professor in the early 1960s. Along with artists Jörg Immendorff, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, Palermo was part of a burgeoning art scene in Dϋsseldorf at the time, as artists rebelled against tradition and began to break down the sanctity of the art object. In large part due to Beuys’ teachings, Dϋsseldorf became one of the most exciting and culturally influential European cities of the 1960s and ‘70s. Even though he was a controversial figure, Beuys is largely credited with almost single-handedly revitalizing German art for future generations. “As a teacher, he showed me the way to myself and to my possibilities,” Palermo would later say (B. Palermo, quoted in C. Mehring, “Four of a Kind: The Art of Blinky Palermo, Artforum, October 2002, p. 143).

To make the Stoffbilder, Palermo explored local fabric stores for the brightly-colored monochromes he so enjoyed. Later, two or three pieces would be sewn together and then mounted onto a stretcher. Originally it was Palermo’s first wife, Ingrid, who was tasked with sewing the panels together, and later the job passed to Gerhard Richter’s wife at the time, Ema. Palermo preferred classical proportions in two- or three-part arrangements of bright, unmodulated color. Often one color dominates the other, but each work together to create a dynamic and captivating whole.

Some of the colors that Palermo selected are reminiscent of the era in which they were manufactured. The bright greens, pinks and oranges that were popular in the late ‘60s speak to the consumer excess of a prominent postwar Germany. Writing in Artforum in 2002, the art historian and Palermo scholar Christine Mehring described this effect. “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, Ibid., p. 139).

Created between late 1966 and 1972, the Stoffbilder reveal the diverse and intoxicating artistic developments happening on an international scale during this important moment in history. Seen through this lens, Palermo’s work embodies many diverse genres, ranging in influence from Joseph Beuys and his involvement with Fluxus, to the ZERO group, and even aspects of Arte Povera. In 1966, Palermo spent time in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where he saw paintings by Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich. He was also influenced by Color Field painting and Minimalist art coming out of the U.S.A. In the early 1970s, Palermo visited New York, and later maintained that his interactions with American artists and their work were fundamental to the formation of his own artistic practice. He said, “During the past two years, I have made several visits to the United States to examine the art being made there, to talk and exchange ideas with American artists, and, recently, to create new artworks… The paintings and drawings I am making in the United States are different from the kind of art I make in Germany. I use different materials and media and I find my work influenced by the country I am in” (B. Palermo, quoted in B. Buchloh, “The Palermo Triangles,” in Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977, exh. cat., Dia Art Foundation, New York, 2011, p. 27).

To the art critic Benjamin Buchloh, the fact that Palermo was able to absorb so many new and interesting aspects of other artists was a key to his success. At a time when the German psyche was deeply wounded from the traumas of the Second World War, it was difficult to even imagine a new kind of art in a world that had been so fundamentally altered and deeply scarred. For Buchloh, “Palermo can be viewed as a subject who was on the one hand deeply demarcated and traumatized by his personal and public history in the German nation state and, on the other, driven by his desire to position himself outside that national history for the sake of a new and seemingly more legitimate identity within the European context” (B. Buchloh, Ibid., p. 27).

Palermo managed to make all of these intuited influences look effortless. In Ohne Titel and in the Stoffbilder that now find themselves in international museums and esteemed private collections around the world, it is as if Palermo has reinvented a new kind modernist painting that is a reliquary for the spiritual and phenomenological possibilities of pure color whilst also complicating it, destabilizing it, and turning it on its head. In this way, Palermo pushes the goalpost ever forward, staying true to an abstract vernacular whilst changing what abstract painting could do and mean.

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