Blinky Palermo

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For the boxing promoter, see Frank "Blinky" Palermo.
Blinky Palermo.

Blinky Palermo (2 June 1943 – 18 February 1977) was a German abstract painter.

Early life and education[edit]

Palermo was born Peter Schwarze in Leipzig, Germany, in 1943, and adopted as an infant, with his twin brother, Michael, by foster parents named Heisterkamp, became Peter Heisterkamp, and moved to Münster in 1952. He was given his outlandish name in 1964, during his studies with Bruno Goller and Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf between 1962 and 1967. The name refers to Frank "Blinky" Palermo, an American Mafioso and boxing promoter who was famous at the time for "owning" Sonny Liston. According to legend, it was given to Schwarze at the suggestion of Beuys when the teacher noticed the physical resemblance between Schwarze and the gangster.

In 1969, Palermo moved to Mönchengladbach and set up a studio he would share with Imi Knoebel and Ulrich Rückriem. After a stay in New York in the early 1970s, he moved into Gerhard Richter's former Düsseldorf studio.

Blinky Palermo died in Malé, aged 33, while on vacation on Kurumba island, Maldives in 1977 (of causes that often are referred to as "mysterious" but widely acknowledged as related to Palermo's drug use [1]). His brother Michael Heisterkamp is the sole heir and owner of the copyright of Palermo.[2]


Palermo was best known for his spare monochromatic canvases and "fabric paintings" made from simple lengths of colored material cut, stitched and stretched over a frame. He painted on aluminum, steel, wood, paper and Formica, often making lines out of tape instead of paint.

Under Beuys, he became increasingly interested in the organized spatial relationship between form and colour, a polarity which is manifest throughout the rest of his oeuvre. In the mid 1960s, Palermo moved away from conventional rectangular canvases and increasingly opted for surfaces such as the circle, triangle, cruciform, totem pole and even the interior walls of buildings.[3] For example, Untitled (Totem) (1964) " simply a vertical strip of wood, 7 feet by about 2 inches. It is painted orange and punctuated, like a primitive ladder, with five short, horizontal pieces of canvas-wrapped wood, each painted white with a portion of a blue triangle".[4] Between 1964 and 1966, Palermo produced a small series of paintings on canvas in which he experimented with constructivist principles of order.[5]

Between late 1966 and 1972 he produced a series of circa 65 Stoffbilder (Fabric Paintings), consisting of colored materials of different widths sewn together along horizontal or vertical seams and attached to stretchers. He took the colour and material quality ready-made from department-store fabrics and had them stitched together by others.[6]

In 1970, he and Gerhard Richter jointly submitted designs for the sports facilities for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. For the front of the arena, they proposed an array of glass windows in twenty-seven different colors; each color would appear fifty times, with the distribution determined randomly.

Later in his career, Palermo would develop his work in situ for large-scale architectural installations. From 1968 he realized more than twenty murals and wall drawings at various sites in Europe, including Edinburgh and Brussels, and recorded them in preparatory sketches and photographic documentation. (They themselves, however, having been affiliated with their place of installation, are no longer existent.)[7] Most of them involved simple, seemingly insignificant interventions; he often outlined the shapes of some of the walls in a given room or filled them in with a different color, leaving only a border of the original white.[8] A series of “Metallbilder” (Metal Pictures) followed in 1972, a series of acrylic paintings on steel or aluminium.[9] They follow a consistent formula: groupings of, usually, four panels, fairly widely separated, with each panel bearing a single main acrylic color area bracketed by bands of one other color at the top and the bottom.[10] His works bear a surface relationship to Constructivism and Minimalism, but the Modernist sensibility is also undermined by a sophisticated sense of humor and his insistence on the painterly and expressive, as evidenced in his poetic titles.

After visiting New York with Gerhard Richter in 1970, he moved his practice to New York City in December 1973. Once back in Düsseldorf he produced To the People of New York City (1976), a fifteen-part work comprising thirty-nine aluminum panels painted in variations of cadmium red, cadmium yellow, and black — the colors of the West and East German flags (and now the German one) - ever changing in pattern. It was shown at the Heiner Friedrich Gallery, New York, in 1977, and at its present owner, the Dia Art Foundation, in 1987.


Palermo's first solo show was held in 1966 at Galerie Friedrich+Dahlem in Munich. Before his death, he further participated in more than seventy exhibitions, most notably at documenta in 1972 and 1977. Along with Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke, he represented Germany at the 13th Bienal de São Paulo in 1975. In 1976, his work Himmelsrichtungen was shown at the Venice Biennale.[11]

In 1987, Dia inaugurated its exhibition space in Chelsea with major shows of works by Palermo, Beuys, and Knoebel. Palermo has also had posthumous retrospectives at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur (1984); Kunstmuseum Bonn (1993); Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, in co-production with the Serpentine Gallery, London (2002–2003); and the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (2007). In 2010, the Dia Art Foundation and the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture at Bard College presented a joint retrospective, the first in the United States, of works by Palermo. The show was financed mostly with a $250,000 grant from Gucci[12] and also travelled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. Drawing from museum and private collections, the David Zwirner Gallery and the Palermo Archive organized an exhibition of Palermo's works on paper from 1976-1977 on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the artist’s birth in 2013.[13]


Public collections holding major works by Palermo include the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate Gallery, London, and Dia Art Foundation, New York. Most of the artist's work, however, remains in the possession of private collectors and museums in Europe.[14]

Art market[edit]

Palermo's auction record is held by Untitled (Stoffbild) (1967–69), a large square panel of cotton fabric on burlap, painted with two bands of solid color of uneven height, respectively dark blue and turquoise.[15] Auctioned from the collection of Gerhard and Anna Lenz at Sotheby's London in 2010, it fetched £1.11 million.[16]


The Unexpected Death of Blinky Palermo in the Tropics became the title of a painting by Julian Schnabel, now part of the collection of the Stedelijk Museum. In 1993, it was damaged during a rainstorm.[17]

Further reading[edit]


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