Blinky Palermo, To the People of New York City (Part XII, Part XI), 1976, acrylic on aluminum
Blinky Palermo, To the People of New York City (Part XIV, Part XIII, Part XII), 1976, acrylic on aluminum
Finally, the Blinky Palermo Retrospective has arrived in the NY area after making it's way from LA via DC. Here the show is divided between two venues, with the metal paintings from his last few years being shown at Dia: Beacon, and the earlier work almost an hour away at Bard College. This is an unfortunate situation, an arbitrary division in the continuum of his work that frustrates the possibility of back-and-forth comparisons and comprehensive viewing. More on that later. I began at Dia, where the Palermos have been conspicuously missing for the duration of this traveling exhibition, leaving a gaping hole in the gestalt of the Beacon collection. It is great to see them back (although now the magnificent Warhol Shadows series has gone missing). The most exciting thing about their return is that Palermo's quintessential last work, the multi-panel To the People of New York City, has been re-installed in a new and much more successful configuration. Previously it occupied a huge shoebox-shaped rectangular space that seemed to distance the viewer from the work and disconnect the groupings of panels from each other. The new "L" shaped space feels much more intimate and fosters the recognition of the work as one whole piece. Suddenly, I am struck with an eery recollection of the moment I first saw this work at Heiner Friedrich's gallery in 1977, and its deep resonance with that moment in time and with the history of painting. I discussed this piece in a previous post: "...For myself and many other painters of my generation, To the People of New York City was a watershed work that almost magically synthesized the impulses of that moment into a new approach to painting. (...) Palermo's genius was creating a pulsating visual poetry that envelops the viewer in a sensate choreography, that has the open-ended improvisation of jazz and the playful directness of the Ramones -- a space in which the highest aspirations of painting are inseparable from its ancient ritual origins." Accompanying this still-vibrant work, a number of other multiple panel pieces from 1975-6 make a convincing case that Palermo had just begun to hit his stride at his death -- that he had tapped into a new clarity, a personal visual poetry that had profound possibilities.
On to Bard, where we see a collection of pieces from 1964 into the early '70s. There are many key works here -- his early geometric paintings on canvas, many of the 2-part hybrid objects, rather dry documentation of the conceptual projects and installations, and of course the cloth pieces. We witness a (rather brief) 10-year span in which Palermo is wildly prolific and experimental, yet methodical in his search for a visual key to his sense of an ineffable resonance. There is a bit of the facile ambitious student, sponging information and mirroring prevailing attitudes, quickly evolving into a more focused and personal poetic vision. I would love to have seen more of the astoundingly beautiful cloth pieces. The few that are included here look surprisingly crisp -- like they were done yesterday -- and the color and textures convey rich presences. Sadly missing from this collection are the wonderful Tuttle-esque drawings and watercolors through which Palermo consistently developed his painterly sensibility and experimented with eccentric configurations. If indeed the key to a great show is to "leave them wanting more", then this exhibition was a success. Certainly, it is a welcome and much anticipated survey of work which has been seminal for so many painters. The show continues through October 31, 2011.