Starting with its own collection of works by the great colorist August Macke, the Kunstmuseum has for decades focused on painting, this “old” and continually “young” medium so capable of renewal. It is against this background that the solo exhibition of the American artist Mary Heilmann can be understood, whose oeuvre these last years has inspired the increasing interest of the art community. Heilmann was born 1940 in San Francisco and began her career as a ceramicist. But as early as 1968 when she subsequently settled in New York, she switched to painting—at the time very much dominated by men—and developed an abstract pictorial vocabulary, which is not easy to pin down or classify. At times her work has been dominated by a geometric, then in turn a more organic, abstraction, without Heilmann ever losing herself in any self-complacent l’art pour l’art. Heilmann’s painting, marked by calculated breaches and consciously staged irregularities, reflects her personal life, which finds coded expression in her images. Thus green and blue paint waves cite an endless summer on the beaches of the Pacific, and perspectivally arrayed yellow lanes recall headlights that project their beams into the dark of a long night’s drive. It is in this way that Heilmann links figuration with abstraction, pictoriality with pictorial narration and so avoids the one-dimensionality of a clearly identifiable statement. Through such “laid-back” openness, Heilmann has become a role model for many younger American as well as European painters, who have been stimulated by her images but also by her artistic standpoint.
The ambiguity of her pictures also provides Heilmann’s starting point for this exhibition that has been conceived specifically for Kunstmuseum Bonn and invites a visual dialogue with another artist personality who was likewise born in the 1940s but died very young. Knowing of the museum’s rich holdings especially in the field of painting, Heilmann was inspired to suggest a tête-à-tête with the paintings and wall objects of Blinky Palermo (1943-1977). She has speculated on finding here a related sensibility and a comparative proficiency vis-à-vis the dogmas of Modernism. In this respect the Bonn show will also represent an homage to Blinky Palermo, who would have celebrated his 70th birthday in this summer of 2013.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an ample catalogue with articles by Stephan Berg, Stefan Gronert, Georg Imdahl, Christoph Schreier, Bernhart Schwenk and Stephen Westfall.