Düsseldorf, Galerie Konrad Fischer, Blinky Palermo. Bilder, 1968
New York, Sperone Westwater Gallery, Blinky Palermo, 1987, illustrated on the frontispiece
London, Tate Gallery, The Froehlich Foundation. German and American Art from Beuys and Warhol, 1996, p. 89, no. 159, illustrated
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen, Sammlungsblöcke. Stiftung Froehlich, 1996-97, p. 89, no. 159, illustrated in colour
Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst, Kunst Sammeln, 1999-2000, p. 67, illustrated in colour
Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst (on temporary loan December 1999 - January 2001)
London, Tate Modern (on temporary loan February 2002 - October 2003)
Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste (on temporary loan December 2004 - May 2006)
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? Positionen der Farbfeldmalerei, 2007, p. 119, illustrated in colour and p. 10, illustrated in installation view
Los Angeles, County Museum of Art; Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum; Berlin, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Art of Two Germanys / Cold War Cultures, 2009-10, p. 163, no. 245, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Krefeld, Museum Haus Lange, Palermo. Stoffbilder 1966–1972, 1977–78, no. 6
Exhibition Catalogue, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Palermo. Bilder und Objekte, 1994–95, n.p., no. 96, illustrated in colour
"Palermo's ultimate achievement may be said to be his liberation of form and colour from... association with representational imagery." (Anne Rorimer, 'Blinky Palermo: Objects, Stoffbilder, Wall Paintings' in Exhibition Catalogue, Barcelona, Museo d'Art Contemporani; London, Serpentine Gallery, Blinky Palermo, 2002-03, p. 51)
When he made them in the second half of the 1960s, Blinky Palermo's Stoffbilder (Fabric Paintings) were at the forefront of what was considered adventurous in avant-garde circles; with the current renewed interest in 1960s German art activity on the tails of the Zero movement, their freshness and importance seems more vital today than ever before. With its exacting economy of visual resource and pared down two-dimensional configuration of chromatic fields, the present work is an archetypal example of Palermo's defining individual aesthetic, which bridged the gap between the semantic codes of Abstract Expressionism on the one hand and the reductive processes of nascent Minimalism on the other. In a brief career, barely more than a decade long and tragically cut short, Palermo produced an oeuvre of groundbreaking significance, within which the Stoffbilder are pivotal.
As a student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the early sixties, Palermo was an early cohort of Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, with whom he shared studios. Together, they were at the centre of a nascent art scene marked by awakening and revolution. At Düsseldorf, there was a critical opposition to classic forms of art, thanks in a large part to the teachings of Joseph Beuys, who so violently broke down the barriers between material, form, content and actions; the timbre was characterized by the disruptive influence of the Fluxus movement, Performance Art and burgeoning Pop. As one of the original Beuysritter, or Knights of Beuys, Palermo's move into Beuys' class in 1964 was attended by a shift in his approach to the medium of painting. While his earlier work had tended towards figure painting, under Beuys he became increasingly interested in the organized spatial relationship between form and colour, a polarity which is manifest throughout the rest of his oeuvre.
At the time, both Richter and Polke were exponents of a more identifiable Pop idiom. Richter was making photo-paintings of quotidian images; Polke employed mass-produced interior decoration fabrics as the supports for his ironic depictions of West German affluence and petit bourgeois aspirations. Despite the heady, libertarian atmosphere of those halcyon years at the Akademie and Beuys' didacticism, Palermo's work possesses an originality and integrity which is impervious to those intoxicating influences, seeking instead its own individual direction. Unlike Beuys, who fetishised such things as fat, beeswax, felt and old batteries, and whose theories were a conflation of Germanic and Nordic animist myth, Palermo was a child of postwar Germany whose art and sensibility was grounded more in material truth than Romantic symbolism.
For Palermo, the influence of Kasimir Malevich's Suprematist works was of paramount interest. In 1962, his pamphlet Die gegenstandlose Welt was republished in German and his works were spectacularly acquired by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Between 1964 and 1966, Palermo produced a small series of paintings on canvas in which he experimented with constructivist principles of order. These experiments with form and colour increasingly called into question the nature of the support, the material on which the pigments were applied. The traditional status of painting as oil paint on canvas had been a topic of controversial discussion in Beuys' class, because the freedom to work with unconventional media had also made it possible to realize unconventional ideas, as witnessed by Polke's contemporaneous paintings on shop-bought textiles.
In his coolly reductivist manner, Palermo started to make striped paintings made of sewn together bolts of unadulterated, ready-made fabrics of differing colours. Pared down to its purest form, it is in these works, the Stoffbilder, in which Palermo's expression achieves its most original voice. It is one of the principal ideas of modernism to achieve movement and spatiality on the picture plane merely by the use of colour and form whilst completely waiving centralized perspective. Here, Palermo presents two bands of unpainted and unadorned coloured fabric, loosening the compositional stringency of Mondrian with a sophisticated humour and sense of enquiry reminiscent of Richter's first colour charts. There is no touch, no surface to them, nothing to scrutinize except for the detail of the stitching and the nub and weave of the cloth. Whereas Richter's seemingly abstract Farbtafel paintings, which he began contemporaneously in 1966, are in fact a form of representational painting, Palermo's Stoffbilder are purely abstract. In formal terms, the contrast between the light and dark blue fabrics generates in the viewer's perception a division between foreground and background – a horizon line – and a visual effect of spatiality through the simplest of polar elements, light and dark. To dare to achieve this subtlety and nuance with commercially available cloth, without so much as a gesture of a brush mark, on the one hand signals a challenge to the lofty ideals of Modernism and the idea that abstraction must be rarified and isolated from everyday experience, and on the other it calls into question the Romantic concept of art (as a vessel for transcendent meaning) maintained by his teacher Beuys. Indeed, Palermo's work can be seen as exemplifying an important transition towards a materialist approach to abstraction which gained greater credence with Minimalism. While Richter and Polke were proposing a similarly materialist concept of art initially through their Pop idiom, it can be argued that Palermo's quietly revolutionary works were bolder and more adventurous than those of his peers. Indeed it was Palermo who first introduced Richter to the New York School of painters, and they decamped to the city together in 1970 and, despite Palermo's early death at the age of thirty-three, his seminal influence can be clearly identified in the Abstraktes Bilder which continue to occupy Richter today.
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