In Your Presence, by Marisela Norte

November 3, 2010

Writer Marisela Norte (she’s been called “…one of the most important literary voices to come out of East Los Angeles”) visited LACMA while we were installing Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico; she was awed as she watched the colossal stone pieces enter the museum. We invited Marisela to contribute a poem inspired by the experience as part of ongoing series Artists Respond.

Marisela said this about the project:

I think the first thing that struck me was seeing the colossal head being taken out of its crate by the two cranes, with the Robert Irwin palm trees in the background. That was impressive—to look at the mass and the weight of that piece—and recognize that face as a face I see every day. It could have been the bus driver on the 770, or someone I saw at the library today—someone who has those same features, that same presence. It’s a very familiar face. It ties into all these descendents, here in Los Angeles, who are still kind of invisible.

I felt like I was carrying him on my shoulder almost. I wanted to do him justice, to put into words what it’s like to stand in front of him and have those eyes looking right back at you.

I shared the poem with Gronk and my friend Ramon Garcia, who teaches at Cal State Northridge, and my friend María Elena Gaitán (known as the “Chola con cello”) and they said it was worth waiting for, and told me not to be so stingy with my writing. It’s something you have to do every day.

Listen to a recording of Marisela reading the poem aloud.

In Your Presence
by Marisela Norte

Between rivers
The muddy low lands

A Technicolor jungle
Color formed
Against an obsidian glass sky

Where stars
Once connected
Begin to tell a story

Of the lonely
Impenetrable jungle
And the rains that
Did not stop

The jaguar emerges
The howling babies still cry

The ghosts of fingers
Trace the shape of
Your lips

Eres Mexico
Eres Africa

Those flame eyebrows mine

The memory of you
A bag of bones
The small, polished stones
Laid out like petals

Red mirror sun
El rojo amanecer
Reflects your presence
Casting its light
On what is still here
And what is yet to be seen

Among the transplants
Like Los Angeles palm trees
Wilshire Boulevard commuters
Who will make the pilgrimage to stand before
Your stern gaze
Leave offerings of
Blue green translucent jade hearts

Foot printing
The advance
We take our place
Before the burial
Under a veil of vermillion dust

We disappeared
Between rivers
In your presence
We begin the eternal return home


Amy Heibel

Who is Blinky Palermo?

November 2, 2010

Perhaps when the words meant something, Blinky Palermo was the very embodiment of the “avant-garde.” He had that honest immediacy about what was great before him and possessed the intuitively intentional shift in perspective that honored its essence but questioned its pretensions.

Blinky Palermo, aka Peter Schwarze, aka Peter Heisterkamp, in his short-lived but vividly impressive career in the ’60s and ’70s, would turn the doyen Clement Greenberg’s American abstract expressionism modernist theory of flatness on its head. He fearlessly broached modern art’s ambivalence about decoration. A confessed lover of America, Blinky would exuberantly bridge European objective sensibilities to the abstract self-expression ethos and invert the grandeur of scale to the postmodern minimalist’s humor; and all in a manner of roughly ten years.

Blinky Palermo, Schmetterling II (Butterfly II), 1968, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt a. M.; former collection Karl Ströher, Darmstadt, Inv. Nr. 1981/36.1-2

As for the back story of this young German, a student of the charismatic Joseph Beuys, LACMA has been patiently but passionately telling it through the dense, revelatory exhibitions on German art in the twentieth century, curated by Stephanie Barron. Starting with the three exhibitions Degenerate Art (1991), Exiles and Emigres (1997), and, most recently, Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures (2009), Ms. Barron has made it possible not only to understand Palermo’s attraction, but how European art and American art could end up on the same page. The history lesson continued with the comprehensive overview of Joseph Beuys’ diverse and penetrating display of “Multiples.” Lynne Cooke, the curator of Blinky Palermo, accomplished a striking resolution to what happened next in the modernist or postmodernist journey.

At the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, under the tutelage of Joseph Beuys, the then Peter Heisterkamp would be tagged Blinky Palermo through a photo of Sonny Liston’s Mafioso manager by a fellow student. With almost punk rock star intensity, Palermo would question the nature of painting, its form, and its interplay with the very wall on which it is presented, finding in abstract expressionism’s exhibits something that remains ultimately a touchstone of his art—the inimitable “gesture.” The sense of artifice was paramount in Palermo’s work; were it not for his modern intent, one could surmise that he was a conjurer of symbols, though of course meaningless ones. In her book, Blinky Palermo: Abstraction of an Era, Christine Mehring traces judiciously Palermo’s cool modernity with its definitive expressive need for the gesture through his many references and configurations.

Blinky Palermo, Blaue Scheibe und Stab (Blue Disk and Staff), 1968, private collection, courtesy Hauser & Wirth

But to actually enter the gallery on the second floor of BCAM full of Palermo’s earlier abstract art is its own revelation. If for no other reason than the sheer scale, one feels that one is at the beginning of something, a different vision. It is both regenerative and adventurous, primitive and sophisticated, but ultimately viscerally loaded. It is pure sensation. His almost esoteric geometric grammar defies its own logic with a mix of rough-hewn, somewhat archaic forms and anatomical references, yet it visually renders a rational pleasure. The painted staff, on close examination, is a giant splinter; the wrapped Blue Disk and Staff, the Butterfly 1, the Tagtraum l, untitled Totem, and Landscape are all in contrapuntal stress, metaphorically speaking. But the “gesture” is everywhere. The Blue Triangle is nothing, by the way, like Ellsworth Kelly’s, nor that which figured saliently in Wassily Kandinsky’s theories of abstract art; though the triangle and the color blue animated Palermo’s art as an abiding intellectual haunting, as if testing its truthfulness.  The notorious Wall Paintings, the famous Cloth Paintings that worked against the Greenberg dogma with its easy and humorous comment on decoration remain a fresh rebuttal. Palermo’s innate skepticism toward utopian concepts of art informed his passion for the fundamental elements of perception.

Hylan Booker

Talk about Fashioning Fashion…

November 1, 2010

Saturday night’s sold-out Muse Costume Ball was, as usual, a feast for the eyes. Everybody brought their A-game and we were knocked out by the costumes. Here’s a small sampling of some of our favorites.

Scott Tennent


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