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“Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone” will be the first solo exhibition and retrospective of the artist’s work in a New York museum. It will include paintings as well as ceramic sculptures and furniture made by the New York-based artist over the last forty years.


Heilmann (b. 1940) is one of the preeminent artists of her generation—a pioneering painter whose work injects abstraction with elements from popular culture and craft traditions. A “painter’s painter,” her straightforward, seemingly loose and casual approach belies a witty dialogue with art historical preconceptions. As Dave Hickey writes in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition: “The canons of geometric abstraction, Color Field painting, and Minimalism are honored in the spirit but not in the letter. In Heilmann’s synthesis, they are straightforwardly looted as available precedents.”


Heilmann’s work has been deeply influenced by her personal experiences, including a childhood and adolescence split between Los Angeles-area beaches and Bay Area beatnik clubs. The impact of this thoroughly West Coast childhood is seen in the vibrant, lusty color palette, sense of boundless possibility, and experimentation for which Heilmann’s paintings are known. The sense of movement and rhythm evident in the work—as well as many of the paintings’ titles—are connected to Heilmann’s enthusiasm for popular music ranging from Brian Eno to the Sex Pistols, to k.d. lang and beyond. The freedom of abstraction combines with an element of autobiography, making Heilmann’s paintings highly influential to a younger generation of artists. Ultimately, Heilmann’s practice can be seen as an all-encompassing network linking genres, styles, friends, locations, and histories—enabling each individual work to speak eloquently on its own terms as well as in a larger chorus.


“Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone” originated at the Orange County Museum of Art, where it was organized by Elizabeth Armstrong, Deputy Director for Programs and Chief Curator. The presentation of “Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone” at the New Museum is organized by Richard Flood, Chief Curator.