One of his most iconic bodies of work, German artist Blinky Palermo’s To the People of New York City comes home this fall, placed on view at Dia: Chelsea. Part of Palermo’s Metal Pictures series (or Metallbilder), the pieces reflect the artist at the peak of his abilities, and underscore his enduring contributions to the the landscape of the 20th Century avant-garde.
America always loomed large in Palermo’s world, all the way down to his borrowed nom de plume, lifted off the notorious American boxing promoter and mafioso. His language and interest in much of the minimalist schools of thought emerging from the American metropolis during the 1970’s sit at the core of his practice, exploring the same threads of rote repetition and subtle variations of form and color throughout his serial pieces, often allowing the viewer to sit in a state of meditative contemplation over a series of three to four colors in subtle switches of spacing and position.
This practice found particular root in Palermo’s time spent in New York from 1973 to 1976, making To the People of New York City a formative and exceptionally resonant part of his oeuvre. Consisting of fifteen parts—composed from forty painted aluminum panels arranged in various combinations of black, cadmium red, and cadmium yellow—the demarcated bands of color read as striking, didactic signs that may reference the hues of postwar abstract painting, the German flag, or Palermo’s interest in Native American visual culture. To the People of New York City, however, is distinguished by its prescriptive hanging style and its rhythmically changing formats, which owe much to the syncopation of jazz. New York City afforded Palermo the opportunity to experience live jazz, which may have informed the titular inscription on the back of each panel: “To the people of N.Y.C.” Free association and movement, counterpoint and interplay form the backbone of these works, as if Palermo had dug deep into the landscape of the city to arrive at a site where these converging iconographies reached a head, turning the city’s meeting point of so many divergent histories into such a tight, resonating exercise.
What’s equally striking is what happens as the viewer draws closer to the work, its tight lines and parallel blocks of color slowly but surely breaking down into the gestures of the human hand. While the works are distinctly measured, close consideration of their strokes and the paint’s application reveals an artist still at work moving the brush, with lines occasionally snaking away or breaking a hard movement in one direction. Much in the same way that Palermo’s embrace of jazz in New York may have informed these works, the moments of imperfection and the presence of the human form give these pieces the feeling of a subtle, yet undeniable human rhythm.
The show is on view through March 9th.
— D. Creahan
Blinky Palermo: To the People of New York City [Exhibition Site]