Dia to Present Blinky Palermo’s To the People of New York City
Opening at Dia:Chelsea on September 15, 2018
On view at Dia:Chelsea from September 15, 2018, to March 9, 2019, Blinky Palermo’s To the People of New York City (1976) returns to New York City after thirty years. The artist’s magnum opus was last shown in the city in 1987 at Dia’s former Chelsea space. To the People of New York City is a multipart group of paintings whose hues may reference postwar abstract painting, the colors of the German flag, or Palermo’s interest in Native American visual culture. The work’s title was posthumously chosen from a dedication that Palermo inscribed on the backs of the panels.
“To the People of New York City has often been described as the most influential work of Palermo’s short but remarkable career—representing a complex investigation into the formal language of Minimalism and the legacy of abstraction, while foreshadowing the paradigms of Conceptual practice. In the context of Dia’s rich collection of work by both Palermo and his peers, this presentation will foster important and in-depth engagement with this artist’s rarely exhibited work,” said Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg Director. “Dia Center for the Arts opened at 548 West 22nd Street in 1987 with an exhibition of Palermo’s To the People of New York City. It is fitting that thirty years later it is this presentation that will be the final exhibition at Dia’s 545 West 22nd Street location before the space undergoes a yearlong renovation as part of a comprehensive plan to revitalize our constellation of sites in New York.”
To the People of New York City is part of the artist’s Metal Pictures series (or Metallbilder, in German), which he had started to develop while living in New York City from 1973 to 1976. During this time, Palermo began to compose serialized groups of paintings on metal, using color and formal patterns to focus on a specific experience of abstract progression.
Created after his return to Düsseldorf in late 1976, To the People of New York City was discovered in Palermo’s studio after his death in February 1977. 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. To the People of New York City is distinguished by the system of hanging that Palermo prescribed, which included rhythmically variable formats and a lower placement on the wall. Each of these elements owe much to the variation and 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.”
In addition to the paintings, the exhibition includes a selection of Palermo’s preparatory studies—felt pen sketches on parchment paper—on which he recorded ideas about the singular arrangement of the painted panels. The final preparatory drawing, which illustrates each of the painted variations in sequential order, provides a codex of the immersive experience of viewing the work. Generously loaned by the Palermo Archive for this exhibition, these studies provide insight into the evolution of this comprehensive cycle of paintings.
Blinky Palermo was born Peter Schwarze in Leipzig, Germany, in 1943. He and his twin brother, Michael, grew up as adopted children under the surname Heisterkamp. In 1962 Palermo entered the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he studied with Bruno Goller and Joseph Beuys. In 1964 he adopted the name Blinky Palermo, which he appropriated from Frank “Blinky” Palermo, the manager of American boxing heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. He participated in more than seventy exhibitions, including Documenta in 1972 and 1977 and the São Paulo Biennial in 1975. In 1987 his work was featured in one of the first three exhibitions at Dia’s former Chelsea location, which was located at 548 West 22nd Street in New York City. Palermo died in 1977 while traveling in the Maldives.
Taking its name from the Greek word meaning “through,” Dia was established in 1974 with the mission to serve as a conduit for artists to realize ambitious new projects, unmediated by overt interpretation and uncurbed by the limitations of more traditional museums and galleries. Dia’s programming fosters contemplative and sustained consideration of a single artist’s body of work and its collection is distinguished by the deep and longstanding relationships the nonprofit has cultivated with artists whose work came to prominence particularly in the 1960s and 1970s.
In addition to Dia:Beacon and Dia:Chelsea, Dia maintains and operates a constellation of commissions, long-term installations, and site-specific projects, notably focused on Land art, nationally and internationally. These include:
-Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room (1977) and The Broken Kilometer (1979), Max Neuhaus’s Times Square (1977), and Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks, which was inaugurated at Documenta in 1982), all of which are located in New York City
-The Dan Flavin Art Institute (established in 1983) in Bridgehampton, New York
-De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977) in western New Mexico
-Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) in Great Salt Lake, Utah
-Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973–76) in Great Basin Desert, Utah
-De Maria’s The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977) in Kassel, Germany
As part of a strategic and comprehensive plan to further advance its mission, program, and ongoing operations, Dia will be upgrading and expanding its principal programming spaces of Dia:Chelsea, Dia:SoHo, and Dia:Beacon.