Mary Heilmann retrospective: injecting vernacular juice into abstract art

Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone,”curated by Elizabeth Armstrong. Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, CA. Through Aug. 26, 2007; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, Nov. 3, 2007-Jan.20, 2008; Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, May 20-Aug. 24, 2008; and New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Sept. 25-Jan. 25, 2009.

Hunter Drohojowska-Philp writes on artnet: “Though she was based in New York, the California esprit of rock music, surfing and humor provides the potent undertow of Heilmann�s paintings, offering permission to play, to revel in pleasure, to go to extremes. Heilmann began painting at a time when her smartest peers had turned their backs on what they saw as the trap of art history. At times, rejection is protection. She was able to approach painting as something malleable and inclusive, fueled by the influences of film, photography, writing, sculpture and music. Though her paintings are abstract, their titles add suggestive possibilities for content. Take Little 9×9 of 1973. The red-painted canvas is wrapped around the stretchers so that it has the quality of a precious object while a grid of uneven lines scratched into the surface reveals an undercoat of black. It looks like the abandoned offspring of Eva Hesse and Frank Stella.” Read more.

Christopher Knight’s review in the LA Times in June: “Heilmann’s paintings from the last 36 years are now the subject of an eagerly anticipated, delightfully absorbing retrospective at the Orange County Museum of Art. The Museum of Modern Art should be so smart. The show is an indulgence for the eye and a pleasure for the brain. It is also a convincing education in how the best artists are not limited by prevailing trends � establishment or progressive. They don’t dismiss either side of any argument out of hand, as those who simply claimed that painting was dead were foolishly wont to do. On the contrary, the best artists thrive on a recalcitrant mix of establishment resistance and progressive challenge.”Read more.

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