New York

Blinky Palermo

Heiner Friedrich Gallery

Colors ricochet from painting to painting in the exhibition of the last work of Blinky Palermo, who died early this year. It is an exhilarating exhibition, making one deeply regret that we will see no more new work by this young German artist. Conceived in terms of an installation, the paintings in the show number 15, ranging in size from 1 x 2 meters to 21 x 16 1/2 centimeters. Several individual works are comprised of three or four of the small panels. Each painting is done on a rectangular aluminum plate, mounted in relief so that the edges cast shadows, giving the colors a mobile independence from the wall; colors interrelate dynamically, seeming to float and breathe in the space of the gallery.

Palermo is concerned with generating a system of interacting color fields and spaces, one which becomes coherent and complete through the inclusion of elements subtly inconsistent with the general scheme. The color format for all the works is red, yellow and black, with all but one work composed of only two of these three colors. Spatially, all but two of the paintings (and each of the panels in the serial paintings) divide into three bands, with two narrower bands of the same color and width extending to the upper and lower or right and left edges of each panel. Of the two anomalous works, one is composed of two colors in three unequal horizontal bands and the other, more irregular, includes all three colors in four unequal rectangles (Palermo seems to be working out golden section proportions here). But the intention of the overall installation with these divergent cases is not merely to define a rule by its exceptions. Palermo’s disordering variations elucidate the truism (proved as a mathematical theorem by Gödel) that a complex system cannot be demon-strafed as consistent without a self-contradiction. The point is, there can be no complex system which is both closed and self-consistent. One can understand Palermo’s installation network of color and space relationships as an open formal system in the process of self-transformation. The anomalous works seem to absorb the energies and relationships of the installation as a whole, carrying the system to the next higher degree of complexity and defining the works of lower degree (paintings in two of three colors with two of three bands equal in width) as consistent, but incomplete as a system.

Palermo realizes this sophisticated conceptual structure through deceptively simple visual premises. He manages myriad permutations and combinations, calling into play pictorial, rhythmical, and virtual features in numerically measurable variations, such as the areas of contracting and expanding colors and the optically illusory action of the paintings on the spatial intervals between them. For example, the small serial paintings are conceived in units including these intervals—one work of seven units includes four panels and three intervals, with each unit, whether painted or spatial, of the same width. The effect of the thin upper and lower horizontal bands is to give each panel a lateral extension which makes them seem wider than the intervals between them. Palermo’s art commands with uncanny precision the most elusive qualities.

Astonishing for the formal and conceptual complexity achieved through such economy of means, this installation of paintings is utterly unpretentious and sensuously exuberant. However much Palermo’s system may engage the intellect, the paintings retain an almost palpable optical vitality. Each color panel seems to ring in space with its own timbre, the installation as a whole concatenating one sustained chord, pulsing with countless overtones in every corner of the gallery.

Richard Lorber