To the People of New York City is part of Blinky Palermo’s Metal Pictures series (or Metallbilder, in German), which he had started to develop while in New York City from 1973 to 1976. During this time, Palermo began to compose serialized groups of paintings on metal, using color and formal patterns to focus on progression. Consisting of fifteen parts—composed from forty painted aluminum panels arranged in various combinations of black, cadmium red, and cadmium yellow—the demarcated bands of color read as striking, didactic signs that may reference the hues of postwar abstract painting, the German flag, or Palermo’s interest in Native American visual culture. To the People of New York City, however, is distinguished by its prescriptive hanging style and its rhythmically changing formats, which owe much to the syncopation of jazz. New York City afforded Palermo the opportunity to experience live jazz, which may have informed the titular inscription on the back of each panel: “To the people of N.Y.C.” In addition to the paintings, this exhibition includes Palermo’s preparatory studies on which he recorded ideas about the singular arrangement of the painted panels. The final preparatory drawing, which illustrates each of the painted variations in sequential order, provides a codex of the immersive experience of viewing the work.
This exhibition at Dia:Chelsea marks the thirty-year return of Palermo’s magnum opus to New York City. The work was last shown in the city at Dia Center for the Arts, 548 West 22nd Street, in 1987.