Blinky Palermo

Kröller Müller National Museum

This museum, in cooperation with the Stadtisches Museum in Monchengladbach and under the direction of Imi Knoebel, an old and close friend of Blinky Palermo’s (who died in 1977), succeeded in mounting an exhibition that in its totality created an atmosphere of delicate balance just as intense as that in Palermo’s work. Its small but complete survey included the complete graphic works, all the multiples, and a number of single pieces (fabric and metal paintings). At the entrance, in its own showcase, was a multiple entitled Blue Triangle, published by René Block; the piece consists of a flat cardboard box, a triangular cutout, a tube of paint, and a paintbrush. The initial impression the piece gives is that it is essentially anonymous. Instructions that accompany the multiple, however, allow the “maker” no freedom of choice. The triangle must be placed above a door, symmetrically, its distance from the door frame determined by the edge of the box. The color the triangle should be is determined by the inclusion of the tube of ultramarine, and the stroke with which it is to be painted is dictated by the paintbrush. The handwork is left to the chance producer, but the rest—size, color, placement of the form in space—is decided by Palermo. All the details of this seemingly “anyone can do it” piece indicate that Palermo left nothing to chance; he was in fact making a work by remote control.

The essence of Palermo’s work is the search for fresh juxtapositions of form and color that offer associations with known visual phenomena. A green and a blue triangle, a black box, a black square, and a gray disk are called “prototypes”; the prosaic title does not indicate a rigid constructivist system of regulations. (The gray disk, in fact, is an objet trouvé—in its irregular oval form, almost a “Hans Arp trouvé”.) When diagonally above the black box, the disk becomes a raincloud; other combinations are equally abstract but equally refer to the esthetics of everyday experience—a kite against a blue sky, the branching out of small twigs, the line of a drainpipe on a gray tin roof, a telephone pole sticking up in a green field. These examples are parallels of reality, not illustrations of it. Palermo’s balance of color and form, constantly finding fresh expression, gives a continuity to his simple yet never boring oeuvre. The tangible quality of his forms, with their color surfaces that are already so objectlike, work sculpturally on the wall; though late in getting there they are surprisingly well placed in this museum, which is usually devoted to sculpture.

Saskia Bos