Dia to Present Blinky Palermo’s To the People of New York City
Opening at Dia:Chelsea on September 15, 2018, 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.