Last week’s Contemporary art sales in London gave further impetus the to anticipation of a Blinky Palermo market move that has been percolating for several years now. Perhaps coincidentally, there’s Palermo retrospective making the rounds in the US. Wall Street Journal critic Lance Esplund spent some time seeing the show (now split into two parts in upstate New York).
Although the notoriously unsentimental—and unswayed by the market—Esplund finds Palermo a greater talent than art stars Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, he’s still not ready to admit the artist who died at 33 to the Pantheon:
Although he courted insouciance, Palermo was clearly sensitive to color vibrations, textures, shapes, rhythms and cast shadows. His purist distillations of flat color and simple geometric shapes are refreshingly straightforward; at times dynamically Neoplastic, Constructivist or Suprematist, especially when seen among the Minimalism with which his art is often aligned.
Working out of early 20th-century European abstraction, Palermo demonstrates that he can do a lot with a little. In his abstract paintings from the 1960s, single-colored geometric shapes pulse rhythmically across their flat ground planes, or torque the surface of the canvas. And his numerous late series of flat, hard-edged geometric abstractions on multiple aluminum panels—exploring the cardinal points, New York City and the times of day—confirm Palermo to be a genuine painter who can push abstraction’s economy of means to the point that his imagery resembles little more than signal flags yet still engages as serious paintings. […]
Revealing Palermo’s strengths and weaknesses, the retrospective presents an exceptional and inventive artist full of promise but just getting started. And it exposes Palermo’s own conflicted urges and influences, which veered between the rigorous abstraction of Europeans Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich and Americans Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly, on the one hand, and the nonchalance and gamesmanship of Conceptualism on the other. The exhibition also betrays the renegade influence of his mentor Beuys, whose rebellious work and tactics clearly were at odds with Palermo’s own and perhaps primary desire to be a serious abstract painter. […] Inconsistent as an artist, Palermo was either a gifted abstract painter unwilling to commit, or he was a Conceptual artist who made good work despite his antiaesthetic leanings.
Contradictions, Equivocations (Wall Street Journal)