(Blinky) Palermo was born Peter Schwarze in Leipzig, Germany in 1943 and was adopted and raised under the name Peter Heisterkamp. He changed his name to Palermo, taking the pseudonym from the American boxing promoter Blinky Palermo (“Blinky” later became his nickname; Palermo was his chosen artist name). In the 1960s, he studied under Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.  Palermo died in 1977 at the age of 33 while traveling in the Maldives. 

Since his first solo exhibition in 1966 at Galerie Friedrich & Dahlem, Munich, Palermo’s work has been included in numerous important exhibitions in Europe and the United States at such institutions as the Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal (1968); Hamburger Kunstverein (1973); Städtisches Kunstmuseum, Bonn (1975); São Paulo Biennial (1975); Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1986); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1986); Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1987); Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1988); The Menil Collection, Houston (1989); Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig (1993); Kunstmuseum Bonn (1994); MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2002-2003); and the Serpentine Gallery, London (2002-2003). 

More recently, his work was shown in a traveling retrospective exhibition organized by the Dia Art Foundation, New York and the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College (CCS Bard), Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The exhibition itinerary included the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010-2011); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2011); and Dia:Beacon/CCS Bard (2011). The Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Münster, Germany and the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland co-organized a traveling exhibition devoted to the artist’s work titled Palermo: who knows the beginning and who knows the end? (2011). In 2013, David Zwirner mounted an exhibition of the artist’s late drawings in New York; the accompanying catalogue included new scholarship by Christine Mehring (University of Chicago) and Christoph Schreier (Kunstmuseum Bonn). The gallery presented an exhibition of works by Palermo from 1973-1976 in 2015. In 2018-2019, Dia Art Foundation in New York presented a solo exhibition of the artist’s work entitled To the People of New York City. In 2020, Blinky Palermo: The Complete Editions Ulrich Reininghaus Donation was on view at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Opening in August 2022, an exhibition of the artist's work will be on view at Dia : Beacon. 

Work by the artist is represented in museum collections worldwide, including Dia Art Foundation, New York; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; The Menil Collection, Houston; MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate, London; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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An Installation view of paintings by Palermo, titled To the People of New York City (Part IX), dated 1976.

September 15, 2018–March 9, 2019

Considered the magnum opus of a career the critic Peter Schjeldahl deems "furiously intelligent and beautiful," Palermo’s To the People of New York City (1976) was presented at Dia:Chelsea, New York. The work consists of a fifteen-part sequence of forty aluminum panels, their abstract red, yellow, and black color combinations. To the People of New York City is part of Palermo’s Metal Pictures series, which the artist started while living in New York from 1973 to 1976. Completed on his return to Düsseldorf in late 1976, the work was discovered in the artist’s studio after his death in early 1977, and titled posthumously after a dedication he had written on the backs of the panels.

To the People of New York City remains an enigmatic work, its bands of color possibly referencing paintings by Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, its compositional rhythm echoing the jazz performances that Palermo sought out during his time in New York. "Broadly held together by its narrowly restricted color scheme," curator Lynne Cooke writes in the introduction to a dedicated book on the work that was published in 2009, “this anomalous sequence of elements, differentiated sometimes by size and sometimes by proportion, posits a unity that does not entail wholeness. . . . Attempts to decipher the layered network of relations between the component parts becomes a gambit, a way of engaging the viewer with real space and actual time and, so, creating an experience of place." Joseph Beuys, who taught the artist at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and became a close friend, offered the following reflections on visiting an exhibition by Palermo: "He was here, the colors and forms appeared, then he went away again. . . . One ought to see his paintings more like a breath that comes and goes, it has something porous, and it can easily vanish again."

In addition to the paintings on aluminum, this exhibition included studies in watercolor and felt pen on paper that show how Palermo developed the arrangement of the panels.

Image: Palermo, To the People of New York City (Part IX), 1976. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York. Courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York

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