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Dia-fied: Blinky & Co. at Beacon and Bard

Rural Intelligence Arts
by Scott Baldinger

“Art is not innocent (Oscar) Wilde says ... Violence can be done in its name. Indeed, the twentieth century brought forth many Dorian Grays: fiendishly pure spirits so wrapped up in aesthetics that they become heedless of humanity.” This quote, from a recent New Yorker article by Alex Ross about the Oscar Wilde novel The Picture of Dorian Grey, reminded me of the somewhat dissolute (though definitely not, from any account I’m aware of, similarly sexually oriented) German artist Blinky Palermo, who died in 1977 at age 34 in the Maldives under not completely un-Dorian-like circumstances (most likely a drug overdose).  Palermo’s “fiendishly pure,”  monochromatic yet stunning aluminum panels that form color patterns suggestive of the West German flag, seem to be, in the sunlit, grandly spacious exhibition galleries of Dia:Beacon, a complete sacrifice to aesthetics—the engagement of the eye over any emotive or coolly ironic expectations.

Rural Intelligence Arts Born Peter Schwarze, Palermo adopted his new name in the sixties, the legend goes, at the suggestion of a fellow art student who believed he resembled an ex-con and fight fixer who’d been gaining notoriety in New York at the time. (Both of them were studying with the artist Joseph Beuys, who, by some accounts, is credited with giving Schwarze his name.) For young Europeans like Schwarze/Palermo, rakish New York epitomized the “confident flash of things American,” as the critic Peter Schjeldahl notes.

Rural Intelligence Arts“Artists take us out of our conventional thinking, almost in an outlaw way.They move us to places where we’re not always comfortable or willing or to go,” says Manda Weintraub, an art dealer and lawyer who accompanied me on a recent trip to Dia-Beacon. Despite the Palermo exhibition’s extraordinary scale and polish (photo, left, by Bill Jacobson), there is a feeling of cosmic playfulness, if not mischief, that comes across, not only when looking at Palermo’s work, but from just Rural Intelligence Artsbeing at Dia:Beacon.  Art there is narrowed into components, small and large: thin strings creating almost invisible walls by Fred Sanback; wood boxes configured into repetitive series by Donald Judd; massive wall murals drawn in barely legible pencil by assistants following the instructions of Sol Lewitt, or primal, monolithic stone or steel sculptures, multi-ton objects by Rural Intelligence Arts Michael Heizer and Richard Serra, left. In addition to works that are fun to look at, such as the the warren of rooms devoted to Agnes Martin paintings, these architecturally contextual creations expand the definition of enjoyment by simultaneously toying with, defining and expanding our understanding of what art can be. Set in Dia-Beacon’s massive, pure white galleries in a former Nabisco box factory, the artworks are ocular exercises and spatial games that bolt deep down into our retinas. The message seems to be both manifold and simple: Keep your eyes open to the whole, move beyond your minds’ narrative expectations, look up, down and all around you—all perhaps in the end for no purpose other than to be able to confirm that, to paraphrase Duke Ellington’s remark about music, “If it looks good, it is good.” 

Rural Intelligence ArtsThe Palermo retrospective has been divided between Dia-Beacon and Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies Hessel Museum, a newer, more traditionally elegant space that, like a doting younger sibling looking up to an older, more raffish family member, tries even harder to épater la bourgeoisie with a companion exhibition, If You Rural Intelligence ArtsLived Here, You’d Be Home By Now. As if the wonderful Palermos here were not enough.  Curated by Lynne Cooke it is, “an exhibition about the life of the art object in domestic spaces.”  Combining neo-geo paintings from the decoratively inclined 1980s (Valerie Jaudon), amusingly cranky Cindy Sherman photos, furniture by Paul Evans, Frederich Kiesler, Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouve with sometimes 2.5 -3.0 dimensional work by Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, and others, its challenge to easy viewing is perhaps best expressed by a large black-and-white text painting by Christopher Wool that spells out, “AND IF YOU DON”T LIKE IT, YOU CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE.”  Despite the violent temperament the Wool work expresses, it, too, looks good, so it must be.

Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977
Now - October 31
Thursday-Monday, 11 a,m. - 6 p.m.
Admission/$10; students & seniors/$7

Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977
Now - October 31
If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now
Now - December 16
Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College
Wednesday - Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m.

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 08/05/11 at 11:09 PM • Permalink