Correction to This Article
This review of the Blinky Palermo retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum incorrectly mentioned Yves Klein as a fellow German artist receiving new recognition. Klein was French.

Blinky Palermo exhibit hits the Hirshhorn

"Composition With 8 Red Rectangles," part of
"Composition With 8 Red Rectangles," part of
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011

Unless you've been to the Dia:Beacon museum outside of New York or received a personal tour of Julian Schnabel's art collection, it's unlikely you've ever encountered the work of Blinky Palermo.

With a name like that, you'd remember if you had.

Palermo was a German-born post-war painter who ran with the greats: In Dusseldorf, he was a student of the seminal German performance artist Joseph Beuys and a contemporary of painter Gerhard Richter. The artist also spent three important years in New York, soaking up the expressionist style of Mark Rothko and minimalism of Robert Ryman, developing a reputation as an "artist's artist."

So how did he manage to fade so far out of the American art consciousness?

Palermo died in 1977, and afterward, his work didn't much cross the Atlantic; most of it, in fact, remains in the possession of private collectors and museums in Europe.

Until now. This week, the Hirshhorn unveiled "Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977," an overview of the artist's short career that's all the more significant because it's the first such exhibition of Palermo's work in the United States.

Organized under the auspices of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and the Dia Art Foundation by former Dia curator Lynne Cooke, the exhibit is making its way to a few big museums - in Los Angeles, Washington and upstate New York - drumming up the Palermo buzz in its wake.

Such efforts to reawaken interest in artists are hardly unusual; Palermo's German cohort in particular has been the subject of PR campaigns in recent years (see: Yves Klein, Kurt Schwitters, Richter).

Sometimes, retrospectives around lesser-known artists can feel crass, as artworks by those artists become exponentially more valuable after such exhibitions. But in the case of many artists of Palermo's circle, contemporary art seemed to become a little richer with each revival.

And that is how we should view "Blinky Palermo: Retrospective." Though Palermo died in the Maldives at just 33 (of causes that often are referred to as "mysterious" but widely acknowledged as related to Palermo's drug use), in his short career, he was a major player in post-war European art.

As a painter, he never wavered, even as his contemporaries dabbled with emerging media. Yet Palermo was acutely connected to them in his zeal for deconstruction and investigation. (Beuys famously said his student had "porosity.") His career was a ceaseless experiment - painting that set out to defy painting.

Pinpointing each new revelation in that search is what "Blinky Palermo: Retrospective" does expertly.

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