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Museum DKM

BLINKY PALERMO | Graphic Works | 13.07.2012 – 27.05.2013

Non-Objective Sensations
On Palermo's Graphic Works
Of all the artists working in the 1960s and 1970s, almost none created so little "minimalist" art with
such minimal means as Blinky Palermo – sparkling, dynamic and with an immediate, sensual effect,
completely devoid of an absolute validation or theoretically grounded system. In his graphic works,
Palermo seized on the medium’s possibilities for clearer, more distinctive shapes and incisive colors,
which – as opposed to drawing or painting – could be put to paper as a whole and in one go. Silkscreen, in particular, allowed him to create uniform and distinct color shapes that do not "spread"
across the paper like lines or traces of paint, but above all "stand" in front of the viewer. Despite this
simplicity and straightforwardness, these shapes never seem rigid, but rather come across as spontaneous, surprising, very instant and alive. There is always something irritating and inexplicable about
the elementary in his work, something that eliminates any semblance of solidification.

In 1964, when 21-year-old painting student Peter Heisterkamp joined Beuys’ class at the art academy
in Düsseldorf and assumed the name "Palermo", his painting style changed radically. Organic, flowing
expressive movements and figurative allusions in muted tones were replaced with just a few succinct,
usually rectilinear shapes, often rendered in glowing color. The inspiration for this new style becomes
especially apparent in his "Composition with Eight Red Rectangles", which was also made in 1964: it
is the elemental, non-objective art of Russian painter Kasimir Malevich (1878–1935) and his1915
"Suprematist Painting: Eight Red Rectangles" that delivered the starting point for Palermo’s composi1

tion. Malevich did not develop his radical ordering of simple, geometric color surfaces by abstracting
objects; instead he created primary, basic shapes that capture the eye as a whole. Depending on their
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dimensions, position and optical movement, they stir a different “non-objective sensation” in the viewer.

This succinct, rigorous expression of mental energies made a tremendous impression on Palermo and
his fellow student Imi Knoebel. In late 1957, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam acquired 29 Malevich
paintings; in 1964 Palermo traveled to Amsterdam, and found in Malevich’s austerity a way out of the
subjective seismographs of the informal and lyrical light visions of ZERO. Palermo saw a new "stand3

ard" in Malevich’s "Square", and as Knoebel said of his encounter with the “Russian movement
around Malevich" in those years, "The black square fascinated us. We were completely taken in by the
phenomenon; that was the real turning point. "

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1 Palermo's picture (works cat. Moeller No. 16) is currently on loan at the Kunstmuseum Bonn. – For more on Palermo – Malevich, see Bernhart Schwenk, "Konstruktion
Utopie. Palermo und die klassische Avantgarde", in: Blinky Palermo. Eine Tagung im Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt 18/19 March 2006, Darmstadt 2006, pp. 50-57.
2 For Malevich, the black square was "the direct representation" of "non-objective sensation", the white background embodied the "nothingness" beyond this sensation.
Kasimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism (Dessau 1927), republished New York 2003 (Dover), p. 68.
3 Gislind Nabakowski, "…Grün/wie ich dich liebe/Grün…" in: Erich Franz (concept), Palermo. Who knows the beginning and who knows the end? exh. cat. LWL State
Museum of Art and Cultural History Münster, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Heidelberg and Berlin 2011, p. 36.
4 Johannes Stüttgen, from "der ganze Riemen" IMI & IMI 1964–1969 (conversation with W. Knoebel, Jan. 6, 1982), in: Imi Knoebel, exh. cat. Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven 1982, p. 96.

© Stiftung DKM | Duisburg (DE)

in: Lynne Cooke et al. giving them an immediate presence. the glowing and "deep" ultramarine blue provokes a readjustment of the gaze. © Stiftung DKM | Duisburg (DE) . in: Gesamte Grafik und Auflagenobjekte 1966-1975. Palermo – Freiheit des Sehens. cat. p. 3). but contradict it: it creates a different perception.). These visual adjustments also set the other motifs in "4 Prototypes" in motion. instead it glows with a uniformity that is only possible with screen printing. Joseph Beuys was surely behind these impulses toward pervasive dynamization. (eds. – Palermo saw this first graphic work as a failure and did not release it for printing beyond a few test prints. The striking first impression of the painting. incorporeal flatness and a hesitant linear contour – or actually opposes the 8 two. Palermo attempted to translate the gouache showing a blue triangle on white paper into a printed graphic.Museum DKM In his first Objects (1964 and after). Franz 2011 (op cit. into an unstable state. Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman in particular were also especially important reference points for Palermo when it came to this kind of pervasive dynamization of seeing. "The Palermo Triangles". Blinky Palermo. 22. Even the shape of a triangle 5 breaks with the static. exh. see Erich Franz. Buchloh has a strong tendency to isolate Papermo’s formal antecedents as semantic. exh. The light green. (traveling exh. aligned gradients or fragmentary openness. cit. Colored zones dissolve the object-like forms with their optical intensity – particularly in the “fabric 6 paintings” (starting 1966).). which are made of colorful. Munich 1983. p. Buchloh. the form shows disturbances in its fixed contours or almost extends into a line. though Palermo produced them on pictorial planes. At the same time. disc combines compact. At the same time. this visible application of paint did not “combine” with the basic triangle shape. Palermo positioned these basic shapes not on a painted background but as sculpture-like painted forms in front of the white wall. sewn-together fabric panels. Actually. For more on Palermo’s references to Beuys and Newman. Los Angeles County Museum of Art et al. fixed solidity of its horizontals and verticals. as it were. Once again. p. 1. in: Franz 2011 op. The rigid. ) And the black square draws on Malevich’s example on such a small dimension that the white of the paper becomes equally im- 5 6 7 8 See Benjamin H. sculptural cohesion. The thing that bothered him about it becomes clear in the identical triangle motif from the 1970 "4 Prototypes" portfolio: the blue surface is now completely homogenous and no longer reproduces the brushstrokes. the idea of fluid movements countermanding the rigid geometry is triggered as well: through the irregular edges. 21 f. lapses into a moment of perception in motion and becomes something entirely different all together: fluid transparency. 7 In 1966. (Palermo even saw the expression of "freedom" in this "free form". 146. Fred Jahn. The grey. no. Blinky Palermo Retrospective 1964–1977. hieratic basic shape of a standing triangle was combined with soft brush strokes and imprecise contours that violate the straight boundaries. cat. New York 2011. the viewer it in at once. iconographic and symbolic signs. Rather than follow something happening in the painting or a composition within the picture. he or she also takes in certain striking features that attack and completely transform this basic perception: color dissolves. Leipziger Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst 1993. p. asymmetrical triangle in light green shifts. Foreword and works cat. 6). 144. reprinted in: Klaus Werner (ed. D. 25–43.). The contrast between the two types of perception appears even more evident: the uniform blue makes the "imprecise" limiting of paint application especially palpable. its effect as a whole.

In the "Staircase" screenprint. and again a soft. both stand in a field of tension between concentration and expansiveness. the red in-between spaces between the blue lines dissolve as positive forms and move forwards and backwards in space. The same is true of the lines in the 12-part graphic series. an almost geometric division emerges in three stripes and two halves. It is as though the line had the “power” to alter the empty surface altogether. In other words. Where "4 Prototypes" shows Palermo’s dealings with Malevich. the slagless clarity of screenprint becomes an important precondition for the sudden and drastic optical metamorphoses. The visible cannot be pinned down: imaginary movements completely transform what appears to be simple. becoming a spatial. The purity of color goes further to enhance the speed of comprehension. one above the other. the white under the black. this time in the classic style of Mondrian. in-between spaces and marginal zones. setting his geometric shapes in motion. Vice versa. The red squares on a white background alternate from the right page back to the left as though framed by imaginary lines. This jumping-back-and-forth of the gaze becomes even more pronounced in the "Flipper" diptych. With the screen print "T". Still. a drop of which "flows out of" the center. The "T" shape turns to fluid. Looking at the four prints together. opaque olive-green color is superimposed over the black area. At the same time. and can therefore incorporate recollections of these – not entirely preserved – works. Palermo's 1968 wall drawings at the Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich framed sections of the white gallery walls with closed or open linear boundaries which are always followed by an arrangement of two squares. spiraling progression. © Stiftung DKM | Duisburg (DE) . visible comprehension "jumps" several times from one perception to another: the rigid. the changing visual perspectives also emerge from purely graphical impressions. They occupy every room in the gallery and partition the white of these walls into different fields. Here. The eye switches between the individual shapes and the grid as a whole. a similar dynamization can clearly be seen in "Flipper". a rigid shape gives way to a dynamic experience. which is painted in with a soft brush.Museum DKM portant. a band of color zig-zags from one corner of the paper to another. where the various perceptions give way to a kind of visual flickering. The image unpacks itself in layers: the black under the olive. the erratic differences between them are even more palpable. Some of Palermo’s graphics assume arrangements from drawings or color fields applied directly on the wall. which likewise alter the white of the paper: the (more or less) enclosed field becomes a positive form "in front of" or "in" the surrounding background before lapsing into it again after all. too. painterly application of color on paper.

For him. When I’m looking at the surface of water. "Hasty" brushstrokes create geometric partitions: a silvergrey triangle on the right. 11 Gislind Nabakowski. p. to a very small. 10 Ibid. optical concentration that focuses energies and attentions. Palermo often works with the tension between big and small. we detect something both positive and something negative in little embossed areas in the middle of the rag paper surface: movement and fixedness. he speaks of "expression painting". a olive-green triangle with a diagonal dividing line. p. for example. Quick movement and indefinite allusions give way to an experience of all-pervasive fleetingness. in: heute Kunst." 11 Erich Franz 9 Cf.. Once I have reached this potential in a painting. I of course have other sensations than I do when I’m looking at a blue color field.Museum DKM Likewise. I consider it finished. p. residual area reverses into a positive form. 6. What we see is not fixed. In his "Miniatures". ibid. July/August 1973. The work is not a closed body where his message forms within it. "Palermo". in response to the question "How should the viewer look at these paintings? " he goes back to the definitive experiences of seeing. real surface (the wall or the sheet of paper) that is part of the work. even refused any interpretation. In a 1968 statement he writes that he has translated “visual and material reality into aesthetic norms" and even 10 speaks of a "new vision and expanded consciouness. Museum DKM | Stiftung DKM © Stiftung DKM | Duisburg (DE) . 23. brief interview (with Gislind Nabakowski). Every negative. it is fugitive transformation through and through. but it develops out of the tensions and adjustments in one’s own optical sense. the "Olive/Silver" screenprint builds a tension out of the conflict between the spontaneous/painterly and geometric construction." In his one. form and color. These elements feel very definite – and yet completely incomprehensible at the same time. but also olive-green triangles or stripes.. 9 Palermo almost never said anything about his work. it is about the sensations inherent in the act of seeing: "seeing the qualities of surfaces. 22 f. 2. from a large.